Oh My Lanta: How A Trip To Atlanta Changed Me
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Politics and Activism

Oh My Lanta: How A Trip To Atlanta Changed Me

I have never felt so grateful and humbled.

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Oh My Lanta: How A Trip To Atlanta Changed Me
Trinh Ha

This past week I was given the opportunity to go on a service trip that reached the city where John Mayer and Usher were discovered, where over 70 streets are named after peaches, and where the civil rights movement was birthed; you guessed it: Atlanta, Georgia. This trip entailed working at two different churches (one of them helping with the development of the first ever pride school to be created), the famous Piedmont Park, and an Easter Seals school for kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Though we spent only about a couple of hours with each establishment, I walked away from each service opportunity feeling extremely humbled, privileged, and grateful. Through this article, I’ll talk about some of my favorite moments of this trip.

The day after we landed in Atlanta, we had brunch at Cafe 458 and once we sat down and took in the atmosphere of the social enterprise restaurant, I felt ashamed of my predisposition of this restaurant. Let me rewind. When I was told that we were having a meal at a cafe where the staff was entirely made up of volunteers and that their mission is to give all proceeds to support homeless men and women, I was selfish and naive enough to think about the quality of the food and not the humbling message behind the cafe’s existence. Cafe 458’s mission is “to empower homeless individuals to achieve economic sufficiency and their ultimate potential to thrive in life.” How amazing is that? As I sat there in this little cafe located in Atlanta’s historic Old Fourth Ward, I saw the eccentricity of the willingness of the volunteers, the eagerness of the customers, and the shared love for the community around us. Since Cafe 458 is entirely donation and volunteer based, it was heartwarming to see that people’s generosity and open arms helped this establishment grow and teach what it means to be giving.

Something else that stood out to me during this trip put me in one of the most uncomfortable situations that I’ve been in so far. I was given the chance to work at an Easter Seals school which is a school designed especially for children with disabilities such as autism. I’ve worked with little kids before. I’ve babysat, been a camp counselor, and have had multiple experiences working with kids of all ages but that day was different. It was during “puzzle time” that a 5-year-old boy next to me, whilst working on his array of brightly colored geometric puzzles, tapped my shoulder and looked at me with big brown eyes and gently whispered, “yesterday my dad hit my mom”.

Here, I was slapped with a sense of shock and panic while an internal monologue went off in my head of all the things I should have done; instead, I swallowed my distress and kept helping him with his puzzle. After class, I told the principal and the school counselor what had happened and they took note of it. However, with the way that life works and its tendency to create borders and guard lines, there’s a slim chance that I’ll know what happened to that little boy. So this I ask: if we preach that kids are the world’s future yet it's more than common for them to learn from somewhere/someone/something that violence and hatred are the only ways of solving a problem, what does that say about us?

This trip has also taught me to live outside of my walls of soothing comfort in the most humbling way possible. For example, our main way of transportation was through the MARTA train system which is Atlanta’s public transportation system. I was naive enough again to complain and didn’t realize that I was given the privilege of having the ability to drive or go anywhere I wanted back at home when I should have been grateful for the fact that I was even given a bus pass. We also had a budget of $2,500 for food and that seemed plenty enough for the six days that we were there considering that we only spent $600 and still had tons of food leftover. Comparing our situation to the basic purpose of Cafe 458, I am privileged to have food at my disposal. I am privileged to know when and where my next meal will be.

As you can probably tell, a common theme woven throughout this trip was “privilege”. Something that I thought was reserved for the ones living in the labeled majority of this world and now I know that was simple thinking. I’ve learned that everyone is privileged yet oppressed in some way. I’m grateful for my existence in the world where kids are the future, I’m grateful for every meal that I'm able to have, and I'm grateful for being a part of a community where hands reach out and hearts open up.

Now I know what it means to be shaken. Shaken by the reality of my privilege. Shaken by both the good and not-so-good of the world. Shaken by my people. Shaken in the best way possible. Thank you, Atlanta.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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