I had the pleasure of being part of my first retreat earlier this month. My first group of students were 8th graders from a middle school in Chicago, and they possessed an incredible amount of energy (that I felt I could not keep up with at times) and an incredible amount of knowledge. During our short amount of time together, the students and Brother David Darst Center staff talked about a myriad of topics, including but not limited to, the root causes and effects of homelessness, gun violence and poverty, the immediate needs of those affected by these issues, and how the students can contribute to change and action by addressing these issues at such a young age. I believe that there was even a conversation about what the stocks were at some point too. Wild, huh?
These students were incredibly insightful. They possessed knowledge about things that I couldn’t have fathomed at their age. For instance, during an activity we did them, one of the categories we needed to take note of was the LGBTQ+ community, and as one of my coworkers started writing the acronym, a student reminded her, “Don’t forget the Q+!”
This moment, among others, was a beautiful but jarring moment for me. I felt … well, old, around a bunch of 14-year-old individuals who were already fully aware of such fine nuances of an ever-developing community. But I felt inspired and hopeful. During their time with us, the speakers of the social justice organizers that took the time to talk to them reminded these students that they are the future. That they are the generation that will continue to get things done when they are gone. I am 23, and I know that I am in the prime time of my life for such work. I am in the prime time of my life to pour in hours of work, so this may seem overdramatic. In a way, it is. But that moment caused me to realize and see that, at one point, it will not be on me and others like myself to keep fighting and put in the work. I have had other people tell me that my generation is the group to now carry on the work of a previous generation, but I hadn’t fully understood what that meant and felt like until now.
For the first time in a while, due to my interactions with the students and other social justice organizations in the city of Chicago, I felt a pure unrefined and unrelenting sense of hope. The world around us has been thrown into a tumultuous whirlwind of negativity and desperate hope for change and justice. These students were evidence of a fraction of the answer for social justice for all those that we share this earth with.
I wanted to tell them all of this, but despite how bright and insightful they were, I am not sure that they would have understood what I meant even if I did try to convey all of it. Perhaps I should have. But I did tell them that they gave me a lot of hope, and that all the hope and drive they seemed to have for change was powerful.
Facilitating my first retreat is a moment that I have been excited for, but also dreading. Not because I do not like facilitating retreats – I have done very similar things with students in the past and loved it – but because I wanted to make sure that I did a good job. The thought of doing less than my best, or failure, is something I cannot afford with the limited amount of time that I have with the students and as a volunteer. In the hustle and bustle of making sure that we get lunch prepped on time, creating community by having the students create that lunch, discussing and unpacking the experiences the students had with us, it was easy to get frazzled in the madness. But that doubt in myself – and frazzled feeling from making sure everything ran smoothly – was drowned out by what I saw and experienced with the students and my coworkers. It gave me such pleasure to see the students learning and to learn with them. It personally brings me indescribable joy, which I also hadn’t felt since I tutored students in college.
These feelings and experiences were not only indicators of change and growth for everyone involved, they were also a confirmation that … I am going to immensely enjoy my time here at the Darst Center.
Carly Cohen is first-year LV serving at the Br. David Darst Center in Chicago, Illinois and a 2016 graduate of La Salle University.