Community Engagement

Service Trip Reflection: Sarah Carnes in Montgomery

Is anyone ever truly prepared for the experience of a lifetime? I wasn’t. That’s for sure.

As we pulled up to the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, it all began sinking in. This, this was where Martin Luther King was shot. I walked up the stairs. I looked in the window of Room 306. This was his room. That was his bed. Yet, when I looked down at the ground, it all suddenly became very real. I was standing exactly where he was shot… At that moment, I could see him standing there. I could see the bullet pierce his chest. I could see him lying in front of me. We hadn’t even made it to Montgomery, but my life was changing.

I love kids. Maybe it’s because of the energy. Maybe it’s because of the freedom. Maybe it’s because I am one. In any case, when I was told I’d be working in a school, I was ecstatic.

However, what should’ve been an incredible day quickly plummeted into a torturous afternoon.

Aaron came in late. He’d missed the first part of the lesson because he’d needed to have a test read to him. His face was hardened. He was scowling. He drug his feet all the way to his desk. Finally, he sat down.

When his peers began pestering him, he retaliated.

Completely disregarding his classmates’ behavior, the teacher barked, “Aaron, stop messing around and get to work!”

He glared at her. Taking out a sheet of paper, he slowly began taking notes. His note-taking gradually stopped.

Again, his teacher reproached him. And again, he made a halfhearted attempt to work.

I couldn’t help but watch him. As he turned around to talk to the boy behind him, he was quickly scolded, “Aaron, come back here and sit by me!”

He stood up. There were daggers in his eyes. His peers stared…

“Everybody stop staring at me!” His eyes met mine. His face broke and the daggers fell. He looked down.

Aaron took his things back to the teacher’s desk and began taking notes.

If you could’ve seen this kid’s face break, your heart would’ve burst into a thousand pieces…I couldn’t handle it. I began drowning in my own emotions. At that point I realized something very important: your heart must be broken in order to be reformed.

I began examining myself. Do I write people off according to a certain stereotype as opposed to seeing the whole person? Am I quick to judge the actions of my neighbor? Do I love others as I love myself?

The Civil Rights Movement itself may be history, but it also remains history-in-the-making. Though we’ve made great bounds in the right direction, we have miles to go. Yet, our future is bright.

I could see it in the 8th grader who cleared the bathroom for a couple of potty-dancing preschoolers. I could see it in the four year old boy who took it upon himself to make absolutely certain that every single child in his class had something to drink after recess. I could see it in the way they praised God through every word they sang in church.

“Smile first… I’ve never seen an icicle that hasn’t eventually melted.”

After all, it all begins with small things because eventually, the small things become big things.

–Sarah Carnes

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