Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Campaign for Community - WHY?

I returned from the annual Scholar Leader "Plunge" late on last Saturday night. We were gone for four days - delving into the history, culture, and aspiration of Memphis, TN. It was a great trip with 24 of us participating.

One of the best parts of the "Plunge" is the fact that it is a great bonding time for the Scholar Leaders. It's odd that a group that lives together doesn't really take the time to bond on a regular basis unless they are taken away from campus and placed in an environment where they have nothing to concentrate on but each other. In additon to the bonding, we saw and experienced so many terrific things in Memphis. We met with representatives from their SmartCity initiative - an organization in Memphis and in select other cities that is focused on improving the community environment for "creatives" - young people who are educated, interesting, and bring many resources to urban communities. We visited the National Civil Rights Museum and experienced the evolution of the civil rights movement in the U.S.A. This museum culminates in a visit to the room where Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in 1968. We worked with sick children at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, visited Graceland to learn of Elvis' legacy, and we made a visit to the Rock and Soul Museum. We had a couple visits to Rhodes College, once to meet with the CODA Scholars, a group dedicated to advocating for the arts and the other visit was for a campus tour and the chance to learn about the way Rhodes connects faith journey and service.

You may have been trying to figure out how any of what you just read relates to the topic of this post - "Campaign for Community - Why?" It's because of two very powerful and connected perspectives that we encountered. Our group meal for Plunge was a visit to BB King's on Beal Street for a little BBQ. We did this with some of our Miami alum contacts before going to a live theater production of "Exonerated," a play about unjustly accused death row inmates. It wasn't the meal that was so great - it was the company - and unexpected company at that. While we were having dinner, four guys from the University of Minnesota (Brian, James, Drew, and Eric) wearing t-shirts that said "Campaign for Community" dropped by our table. I couldn't help but ask about their t-shirts... They said their t-shirts captured the essence of their 11-day trip over winter break. Their campaign involved following a path they had not planned. They were simply taking the path suggested by the people they encountered along the way. It took them to Iowa, Tennessee, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, and Ohio. This was their way of understanding, engaging in, and building community. Having connected with us, we had the pleasure of hosting them and learning more about their terrific work when they visited Oxford last night and today.

The other part of the post title is "Why?" The picture above was on one of the bulletin boards in the Faith and Service center at Rhodes College. I was so struck by the power of this poster, the others that were in the room, and the message that Rhodes sought to give about caring about community and those around us. I've sometimes heard the current generation of students referred to as the "Why?" generation. Maybe this is the reason - Whose hands will you be? Why care? Why believe? Why bother? Our friends from Minnesota were seeking the "Why?" The historic figures of Memphis were seeking the "Why?" And those of us who will ultimately make a difference in the world will unceasingly seek the "Why?" It's nice to know that we have company for the road.

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