Artwork by Catherine Ferguson
News flash: your world is not the only world.
“Memphis is just a big small town.”
Whether it is on an Ugly Mug run, in our closest Target or taking a walk around Overton Square, people utter these words, or some very similar, on almost a daily basis. We become so used to our own group of connections and faces and names that we stick to these people. Why would you not? It feels comfortable. It feels normal. However, in an increasingly interconnected world, the challenge today is how to break through that bubble of convenience and ease. No matter how much of a “small world” Memphis seems to be, there is so much that we, the St. Mary’s community, do not see.
Yet, the big question remains: how do we actually see what is beyond our very comfortable, safe walls?
Over the summer, a group of St. Mary’s students and faculty participated in a service week; together, we were S.A.L.T., or the service and learning team. Staying in the basement of a church on the corner of McLean and Jackson, S.A.L.T. got up each morning to go to a different area of Memphis to help out a community in need. Whether it was kids at an art camp, animals on a farm, or people in their homes unable to cook their own meals, S.A.L.T. joined together to help those in our very own 901.
One of the most impactful experiences was participating in MIFA’s Meals on Wheels. This took the group into neighborhoods they had never been before as they delivered both food and friendly smiles. “We so rarely have opportunities to make connections with people who don't live in our neighborhood, don't go to our school, or don't go to our place of worship, and that's what made Meals on Wheels so special,” said Ms. Bowers, a teacher on S.A.L.T.
Another group of students and faculty participated in a conference at Vanderbilt in June for students from independent schools like St. Mary’s: the very name of this conference was “Tearing Down Walls.” Hita Mohan (10) had the opportunity to partake in the conference and said it truly opened her eyes to the existence of privilege in America. “We as St. Mary’s girls can be trapped in our ‘known’ and cannot imagine beyond that.” Each of the speakers and leadership activities encouraged going outside of our internal walls — our comfort zones — in order to be exposed to communities we do not regularly see: the neighborhoods we have placed walls around because they are deemed “bad” or “dangerous.”
The faculty who went to the conference got to hear from guest speakers such as author Debby Irving and activist Tim Wise discussed the history of the disadvantages placed upon minorities and how to move forward as a nation. They were then asked to plan what steps could be taken in their own school communities, such as bringing awareness about experiences such as these. One of the participating St. Mary’s teachers, Mr. Nichols, thinks all students and teachers should take part in this conference. “It was the perfect combination of stimulating discussion, meaningful content, and fun activities.”
As citizens and as people, I believe it is necessary to expose ourselves to the world beyond our everyday commutes and favorite weekend stops. Our “small world” becomes so much bigger when we tear away the walls of comfort and ease. Once we take that step, allowing ourselves to be uncomfortable, we can truly be aware of just how big this world really is. Let us make the walls come down.
Like Ms. Bowers said, “Breaking out of those bubbles is what builds empathy, connection, and understanding across different groups and I think that we should all strive to do it more often.”
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