If you were to look up the Brother David Darst Center in Chicago and find their mission statement, it will say:
“The Brother David Darst Center provides unique learning and immersion opportunities that explore issues of social justice through the lens of Christian social teachings of peace, justice and respect for human dignity and the environment. We seek to inspire a responsive, active faith, a commitment to serve and a passion for social change.”
Which sounds super cool and Peace & Justice-y but the best way to sum up my experience at the Darst Center is that my group and I got to enter into other people’s chaos. That means that we were able to be present and see how people from the South side of Chicago live out their lives and how different their lives are from a group of thirteen college students who go to school in Iowa. This does not mean that our presence made any significant change at all to the people we met, no matter how much we would have liked it to. We stayed at the center, but actually went to various other locations around Chicago, led by our guide, Keith.
This is a brief synopsis of what we did and who we saw:
Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation: The goal of this organization is to heal the community through reconciliation between victims and wrongdoers. One main ministry is the Making Choices Ministry, which provides at-risk teens a place to truly be themselves. They have after-school programs and mentorship groups.
Sister Helen Prejean: a nun dedicated to talking about life, death and social justice. We were able to hear her talk about the death penalty and the ethics behind sentencing someone to death.
Su Casa: a Catholic Worker house dedicated to being a safe house for women and children who find themselves in unstable situations. It also partners with other organizations in the community to create a better living environment and it engages in activities to educate people about social justice issues.
Frieda’s Kitchen: a soup kitchen attached to Su Casa, Frieda feeds as many people as she can and tries to give them a little bit of advice along the way.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church: It is a part of the Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach and is a safe, comfortable place to attend Mass, whether you identify with the LGBT community or simply just want to appreciate the beautiful Church.
Epworth United Methodist Church: By night, the basement is a men’s homeless shelter run by a man named Vince, who makes sure that his shelter is the safest shelter in Chicago for the men in need of a place to stay. There’s a small process to be able to come to the shelter and rules to follow once in the shelter, but that’s how Vince ensures the safety of each person entering into the shelter.
I learned that showing each person the respect they deserve simply for being a human matters. It matters because most of the people I came into contact with during the two days I was in Chicago have been repeatedly told by society that they do not matter and are not worth putting time or money into. Perhaps this is a bit harsh, and some of you might be saying that the people I saw struggling under the weight of poverty, racism, and oppression got their chance and blew it. Fine. But I would say to you: make sure you’ve actually tried to be with the people that we (myself included) write off as too much work, with not enough readily available resources. The hardest part of my experience besides the apparent differences in realities between the various people I encountered and myself was seeing how wrong I was about homelessness, poverty, gangs and incarceration and trying to figure out how the experience I had would actually affect me when I went home. I haven’t quite figured out how everything I learned about that weekend is going to affect me long term, but I know that I can’t go back to being ignorant of other people’s suffering.