When signing up to go on Alternative Break with SF Hillel, I wasn’t quite sure what I was signing my self up for. All I knew it was a social justice trip. I had been inspired to join after speaking with Emily, our Hillel staff member, about how angry I was with the lack of equity in today’s society. Emily and I shared this conversation just days after the presidential election occurred, so emotions were running high. Emily recognized my anger, and challenged me to think about what I was or could be doing in my community to help change the status quo, because sitting with anger wouldn't help anyone or anything. When my mind drew a blank, Emily suggested that I participate in Alternative Break.
Shortly before Alternative Break began, many people were asking me what I would be doing in New York. When I responded with, “I’m going on an organized social justice trip,” I got the feeling that people were expecting a different answer, something more stereotypical of a college student. While many of my friends chose to spend their spring break relaxing at home or partying, I was fortunate enough to devote an entire week to social justice volunteer work.
Even though I spent my spring break helping others, I still was able to visit all of the landmarks that I wanted to see – Times Square, Rockefeller Center, The Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island. Those adventures, coupled with the opportunity to tutor elementary schoolers, volunteer at a food pantry, and respond to beautiful poetry written by people who are currently incarcerated made my spring break incredibly exciting and rewarding.
One of my favorite organizations that my peers and I volunteered with is called Books Through Bars. Books Through Bars is an organization that sends books to people serving prison sentences. Books Though Bars relies on volunteers to curate a set of books for prisoners from their own library. Prisoners write in expressing their areas of reading interest. One of the letters I opened to fulfill was written so well, in such beautiful script. Often times, it is easy to think of people in our prison system as “bad” people who lack intelligence. However, serving this inmate (and seeing the hopes and needs of others opened up my eyes to the fact that while these people have committed crimes, many are still working to educate themselves and have a thirst for learning. Volunteering with organizations that connect incarcerated people to the rest of society is not only beneficial for the inmates, but also helps those of us outside the system see humanity and opportunity for rehabilitation. Books Through Bars was a great experience that I hope to continue volunteering with in San Francisco.
I am so thankful for all of my experiences in Brooklyn. my week in New York was one for the books, to say the least.