Straight out of Congdon, where am I?

I like to orient myself. When I first arrive in a new place I immediately feel an overpowering need to understand where I am. I do not mean this in a philosophical, ideological “Where am I, help me” sense. I mean I quite literally need to know exactly where I am in relation to rivers, roads, landmarks, the ocean, etc.

This need began in high school. I would spend hours driving around Raleigh discovering how roads connected and guessing new routes to old haunts. I turned down roads I had long driven past, curious about where they ended up and who or what could be hiding in these unassuming side streets. Much to my gas tank’s ennui, these drives often spilled into the night, hidden behind excuses of “Oh I need to run errands.”

This need did not end with college. At Duke I once again spent hours meandering through the Duke forest, turning down gravel backroads in Durham, and exploring the county limits. This exercise has a dual purpose. One: I get to truly understand where I am and I don’t feel (as much) like I am just a tiny floating speck of dust in a giant vacuum. It gives me a sense of place. A sense of ownership. Not only do I know what roads connect with which, but I also know what these roads contain. I know about the mesmerizing expanse of power lines on Johnson Road. I know about the worn down Coke mural on the wall in Andrews. I know that one window simply reads “Horse feed, Dog feed, Fish feed.” The other purpose of this exercise: Peace of mind. This time alone in the car helps me think, reflect, and relax. I consider myself a rather talkative person. I do not often sit in silence when in a group of people. When I am in my car, orienting myself, it’s just me. Silence. And loud Rihanna probably.

What does this have to do with my summer of service in Georgetown? A lot actually. My need to orient myself began the moment my car full of Triangle-rs squealed down Fraser Street laden with 3 bikes and a lot of nerves. I immediately needed to understand. Where was our house in relation to the water front? How far were we from the ocean? What was south of us? What was north of us? How are the paper mill and the steel mill in relation to one another? To the town? To the harbor? Where had we driven last summer in Georgetown when visiting the older BN’s? Where was I?

After the past 10 weeks, I believe my orientation is complete. Through a series of bike rides, solo drives, and staring at maps when I should have been working (whoops), I think I understand. I have driven to Andrews. I have driven up and down 17 to the north and the south. I understand the way the roads connect and the neighborhoods transform in the shadow of the towering mill. I know where the road ends and the end of the tracks begins again. I know that if you drive past the YMCA and past the landfill and past the jail, you find the best place in the world to watch the sun set.

This summer, however, a new type of orientation obsession has set in. As the popular saying in our house goes, “I can’t NOT be a sociologist.” I have oriented myself to those around me. I have taken time to not just understand my fellow BN’s at face value, but to understand why and where and what they are. I will share some things I now understand (after some serious orienting) about my biscuit heads.

Taylor is a mother. Ali is an old soul and loves puzzles. Barak has a high pitched laugh and loves Shubham more than I have ever loved anyone. Annie is extremely resourceful. Gabi has a dark sense of humor. Jack is wise and loves rap. Catherine is observant and has read everything. Shubham is the king of back handed compliments. Khalid loves sour candy and is one of the kindest people I know.

Taylor cares about people so much and is easily messed with (cue Shubs and Barak). Ali is an incredible listener. Barak has a keen sense for what is polite and correct and appropriate. Annie is pensive and liberal as hell and uses the word “beautiful” in a way I wish I could. Gabi is sensitive to her community, handling the shooting in Charleston with grace and with emotion. Jack is incredibly thoughtful, always up reading and meditating when I rise early to go on a run. Catherine is always thinking of others, always asking “Does anyone need anything while I run to the store?” Shubham refuses to accept a compliment because humble is his middle name (we are all still talking about his butt in those jean shorts). Khalid is the best “Pizza” dancer I’ve ever known and has turned every tough situation into something to smile about, responding to every request with “Word.”

I have oriented myself to these people in many ways. Whether it be by guessing things about them based on their favorite author or latest book recommendation or by simply watching as they go about their daily schedules. By seeing how everyone handles a tough day at work or a long 3 week stint without seeing family or another bout of botched Wifi. Or simply by lying on the beach at night, staring at the stars in silence, letting the waves roll up on our feet. I feel like I know where I am.

Front Street is straight down Congdon with a left after the church. The paper mill and the steel mill hug Winyah Bay and create my favorite view and go-to insta/snap story. The Dunbar Community and Browns Ferry intersect at the world’s most annoying left turn. There is a beautiful, boarded up old home tucked in the shade behind the hospital. The kids of 808 N. Congdon are smart, interested, thoughtful, kind, annoying, loud, obsessed with Sweet Cups, fans of the Food Network, and Beautiful and Nice. Service, Leadership, Community. Oriented in Georgetown, SC n’ Durham, NC we work and we play. I know where I am.



In Each House an Ovum

so knowing,
what is known?

Lucille Clifton, “far memory”

L.H. Siau Bridge, July 16, 6:23 AM.

When I get out of the shower in the morning, I pull on my clothes and pour coffee. If there is a mess in the kitchen, I clean. From the living room sofa I bear witness to the waking routines of nine others, and more: the chronic gym-rats; a runner; coffee fiends out for a score; teachers and social workers, a lawyer and a librarian, moving about with oatmeal in various stages of dress. A congregation masses around Norman’s blue car in the next yard. Wayne wakes up running. Wayne is leashed, walked, and fed. Wayne runs back to bed.

Norman’s talking with David and Lester. All three are Georgetown natives who, for various reasons, left for New York and who, for various reasons, returned. Few of the people I met at Public Works before dragging up live in town, and fewer are natives. “Do you ever get used to the smell?” I once asked a coworker from Pawleys Island. She chuckled the way bureaucrats do: not because I what I had asked was funny, but because she doesn’t have as many APWA forms finished as she should and her twins are both sick with colds and she meant to be a painter anyway and what else could she do but chuckle? It was Wednesday.

Pawleys, it should be noted, is two bridges and a stretch of US-17 away from the reach of International Paper’s sulfurous steam. (Incidentally, both halves of L.H. Siau were under my jurisdiction for about a week as I was revising the county’s bridge policies: Hand it over to Columbia…to Columbia…to Columbia…) Maybe it’s more than a combined century of living mere blocks from the mill that brings our three neighbors outside at seven every morning; maybe the dew at this hour dampens the stench. They stand and talk, in Georgetown’s lingering morning breath, about the army, Revelation, and gardening.

Another remembrance from the three weeks I spent infiltrating county bureaucracy: a different coworker, also from Pawleys, asks pointedly, “They’ve got you living there?” (On my third day of work, a foreman showed me the layout of the county on a wall-sized map. Among the insets were all the cities on the Grand Strand, including Georgetown: cartographic proof that the county does indeed recognize its own seat.) As it turns out, she used to go jogging around the West End until friends of hers mentioned that the area has a poor reputation. “Poor” meaning, presumably, the condemned houses scattered about the end of Front Street and the skinny dogs drooping over the tracks like laundry on a line. And the parents, living on the junction of “Racing in the Street” and Monk crazed and alone at the piano, they sit on rockers and watch their kids play pickup. When the sun drops behind the mill, the floodlights turn on; every night a parody of the Eiffel Tower, twisted and on fire. Is the smell week-old lasagna, or is it sweaty socks at the bottom of the closet? Even now I can’t decide. Some evenings it’s sulfur beyond metaphor.

I stop by the auto parts store on one of those evenings. I’m coming home from the gym and figure that my car could use an air freshener. There’s only one other customer in the place, and he’s ahead of me in line. The cashier, who looks like I used to, working in the summer in high school, deserves to be licked with a wrench until he figures out how the cashback system works. At least that’s what the man in front of me tells him.

“Where’s Steve?”

“He’s got a battery – ”

“Go get him.”

The man turns around, jerks a thumb toward the moving cashier, and begins a long invective. Every expletive releases more tobacco. The oil stains on his shirt match his moustache, and although he’s got lines in his face, the skin on his fingers is stretched taut. Even in his rage he seems skeletal and small.

This is not the first time I’ve seen someone yell at a cashier in Georgetown. Another bony man walks with me into a BP station before work one morning; he’s got a British accent, a backpack, and a Jumanji beard. The store seems to have every flavor of Marlboros except for the one he wants. He raises his voice, slurring his words, and goes back to his bike. I don’t know him, or where he came from or where he rode off to; nor do I know the man in Advance Auto Parts or what he did with the money that Steve gave him. But I know that one needed smokes about as badly in the morning as the other needed cash in the evening, and I didn’t need an air freshener half so much.

And it appears I’ve reached a dead end. Am I to continue pursuing pale and gaunt white men, like the one playing nu-metal through his phone speakers in the urgent care on North Fraser? Had I not been told by the nurse that there was trauma in the back and that I would be better off passing the first of two kidney stones at Georgetown Memorial, I probably could have gotten one more maudlin paragraph out of him. As it is, however, I can only give you this sketch of what I saw; you must have the moral fortitude to see the stranger with stained clothes and sunken eyes and reserve your judgment. I leave him there at the end of my rhetorical question, and you with a pledge that I will learn from your restraint.

They’re still talking, by the way. Norman and David and Lester. Maybe an hour ago the sun rose, and they could’ve seen it if they lived where Front Street runs into Greenwich Boulevard. It gives the grass its summer-green back from the dark, and its light dallies on the bend of the bay. Crabs get at forgotten picnic baskets in the sand. Under tree arbors, houses sleep. Their colonnades are white as eggshells, and just as impeccable. When the clouds are rosy enough, men and women walk outside to strut their pretty dogs and hoist the flag of their state above the street.

This is what my last air freshener is dreaming of in the C&D Landfill, to pass the time till armageddon.

On top of the landfill, little pipes release pent-up methane into the air. It is the highest point in Georgetown County, populated by circling murders of crows and gulls. Why did we leave East Bay Park? There are no Little League fields here. The historical plaques and museums on Front Street make downtown seem invulnerable to the sweep of the twenty-first century: don’t touch these buildings, keep off these lawns. (An entire waterfront facade burned down in 2013, and it has not been replaced. There are soot marks on the adjacent walls that still want a power-washing.) But if you take a shovel to the highest point in the county, you will find the waste of this and the last century under a few feet of dirt. Cubes of aluminum and paper and compost have been packed – are still being packed – as tightly as can be; some of the trash is South Carolinian, but hundreds of thousands of pounds also come in from North Carolina and New York every year. The hills’ immensity cannot be fully appreciated until you stand a ways back from one of the peaks and see the blue compactors roving about like ants across their mounds. Day by day, they press the byproducts of our human seasons further into the earth, and we take no notice of the camouflage.

In Georgetown I have witnessed a quiet, stubborn resistance to the passage of time. The city districts’ nicknames – “West End,” “Airport,” “Downtown” – are rarely spoken in the county government buildings now, but the older black women that Khalid and I interviewed have not forgotten them. Ms. Rebecca G. Izard, born in 1914, can still place these districts in relation to the plantations where her parents and grandparents once lived, first as slaves and then as sharecroppers. Nor has the city forgotten. The railroad tracks have carved hard lines into the face of the urban landscape, and the mills have grown like industrial sores across them, in places where few whites live. Poverty existed here before these civil-engineered diseases. (“It smells bad, but the sulfur isn’t any more harmful than your standard factory smoke,” our tour guide at International Paper tells us.) And on the backs of poverty and slavery, wealth accumulated; but we have to go back decades to find written evidence of specific instances of slavery in the county.

See the “National Register Historic District Map,” published by the Georgetown County Chamber and available in the Information Center this year:

Both [rice and indigo] required a large labor force and more and more African slaves were imported into the colony. This diversity of Indians, English, French, Scots, and Africans has contributed to a rainbow of cultural experiences….There had been a growing worldwide movement, dating back to the late 1700’s, to abolish the institution of slavery because of the lack of freedom and generally harsh labor conditions that the system supported.

Information about historic landmarks from the National Register are included with the map. See location 7: “THE RICE MUSEUM (1842, tower and clock added 1857) – a Greek Revival structure, this building is Georgetown’s best-known landmark. Originally, an open-air market.”

See The Georgetown Times, October 13, 1967: “Market Building, rebuilt in 1824, as a brick replica of the original market, on the site of the old slave market….”

This is the way the world ends

            This is the way the world ends

                          Not with a bang but an erasure.

“Judging other people doesn’t do anything,” says Catherine, as we’re setting up for the food bank distribution at Bethel A.M.E. We bag cans, and in the kitchen sink we pull apart pork chops that have defrosted in a warm, meaty broth. Some of the lighter pieces look like cooked chicken. I haven’t eaten since last night and eye that raw meat like Gordon Ramsay staring down a filet mignon presented as pretty as the sound of its French name. Do you know how bags of bread and cupcakes donated by Wal-Mart look to a well-off kid who hasn’t eaten in twelve hours? Good enough to make you hope those bags don’t get picked before all fifty packages of food run out and the distribution ends. Then, maybe, can I tear into one of them?

I will rest in hope.

It’s hard to deal with hunger like that when you’re always provided for. Hunger like that reeks of indolence: get up earlier, fix breakfast. This is not to suggest that the forty-six people we served at the distribution are well-acquainted with a blunt-aching hunger, or that they are not always provided for or providing; provision is making the trip to Bethel that morning.

Let me be frank: I feel awkward distributing food to those who need it. The phrases “soup kitchen” and “food bank” conjure up assembly lines of hobos holding bowls up to volunteers, Oliver Twist-like. There exists for me a conceit that my place as a volunteer is tantamount to handing each ragged Oliver a Holy Grail in the form of food. After all, isn’t nourishment one of life’s necessities? Yes, but food is just one necessity, and the stuff given out at soup kitchens and food banks hardly fulfills it. I can see the Arthurian legends in the icing of old Independence Day cupcakes and freezer-burned pork, but I got lunch from a bakery afterward. Would young Oliver have ever read Malory had Dickens not given him a wealthy parentage at the end? Would that every volunteer were a Dickens, handing out bags of happy endings.

Let me peel off the myth I’ve made, then. The awkwardness of this kind of volunteerism is part and parcel of staring down my own vanity. I am not as important as I think I am. I have not solved any of these people’s problems. Further, I believe that these people have certain problems because of where they’ve chosen to show up on a Friday morning or what they’ve chosen to show up wearing. In two hours, I have bagged some bread, carried a few packages, and made more cruel judgments than I care to count.

Let me try the passive voice: a bag of bread is chosen, said bag is placed into a used plastic bag, said plastic bag is handed off. This is not working. I prefer a peopled grammar.

“Judging other people doesn’t do anything.” On the contrary, it does quite a lot. I was riding with a friend of ours, a middle-aged black woman, who spoke openly about living on disability checks and food stamps since 1989, the year she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The odds were not in her favor, but she survived the removal surgery. When I called it a “success,” though, she corrected me: an additional series of surgeries were necessary to adjust the amount of spinal fluid in her body. Twenty years later, it was breast cancer. Today her blue eyes are fuzzed over in cataracts.

On another ride, she spoke about dating in the age of AARP, and how men still play games at 70, and how the women who were “hell when they were young are hell today, too.” (One of the self-designated historians of the church had had an affair with a pastor; her husband met the two of them at the church and beat the seventh commandment into the man who preached it. Another story, set a decade later: the Bethel doors have been locked by the congregation on a Sunday morning. Standing outside: a pastor, a drunkard, and a serial adulterer. He’s been fired.)

These conversations, along with the interviews that Khalid and I did for Historic Bethel, Inc., demonstrated to me that I have imagined the inner lives of blacks as I have those of whites: vanilla, two-dimensional, without history. I mean people with whom I am acquainted just enough to know their names and professions; from these, I habitually, instinctively, unconsciously spin the yarns of their lives to myself, as though every biography were a longwinded elucidation of two or three proper nouns. And, although I reduce the lives of men as much as I do those of women, I would be amiss in saying that there’s no degree of sexism – residue of hard rock, boom bap, Kurosawa films, and my own ignorance – that helps me imagine everyone conforms to certain gender roles until I find out otherwise. Actually, I’ll come clean: everyone is a reflection of myself until I find out otherwise. Well-off, that is, and studious, and just not that into sports. Ignorance, being more than bliss, is pretended equality. Ignorance is colorblind and saccharine. It is a commercial with same-sex couples dancing behind a giant X-ray, telling us that difference is only skin deep.

Here is what a skeleton cannot say.

“When I would come out to go to school, you know, the walk to school. When I get to be in the eleventh grade or something, there would be white men in cars, and they would stop and ask you if you want a ride. Of course you didn’t get in. But it was – it was quite a life.”
“Daddy always made sure we had food on the table.”
“Undoubtedly it was a big crime ’cause I remember – we lived out in the rural area, Oak Grove, and I remember Mama telling us about Fat Eye.”
For His eye is on the sparrow, / And I know He watches me.
“Whenever I hear one of them say it, I pull him over and ask him, ‘Do you know    what that means? No. You don’t know what nigger means.'”
“We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world…”
“I looked Evil right in the eyes, and he let me walk away.”

To rest on your instinctive judgments is the most dangerous form of solipsism. There is no history but your own, no system of beliefs but your own. The women we interviewed for Historic Bethel do not look out of the ordinary. If not retired, they work regular jobs. They have families. As I have learned more about some of the subtler ways that racism affects people of color in the United States, and as I have seen the unprecedented amount of news coverage the less-than-subtle acts of twenty-first century racism have gotten in the past year, I seem to have forgotten that there are people still living who were raised in the Jim Crow South. By the time I was old enough to start following or caring about current events, technology assured me that there would be no paucity of them. With a phone in my hand, I am omnipresent and almost omniscient; but I have a historical nearsightedness nonetheless. There is so much recent history that it is difficult to remember the temporal closeness of legal lynchings and the Sutpenlike domination of black bodies by whites.

Unfortunately, there is one more pale and gaunt white man to pursue. I have been trying to understand him since June, him and his Rhodesian flag. He wears his hair brushed down like I used to, he’s but a few years older than me, and has studied the same church histories that I’ve studied this summer. You’ve seen his face, and I’ve seen his face, despite growing concern over the effects of plastering pictures of mass shooters across every television screen in the country. All these questions that I’ve been trying to answer about personal and political histories, race in America, and how one person judges another, have stuck fast to the wallpaper in Mother Emanuel’s basement. We are two young men from the rural Carolinas. The day he bought his gun, I was reading Cymbeline. When I was graduating high school, he was taking opiates in a blacked-out room. Did our paths divulge in childhood, or are we innately different? This frustration is not altogether different from the awkwardness I feel distributing food, but here the stakes are higher. In the one case I confront my own vanity; in the next I recognize its stupidity. Similarity is not sameness, and difference is not disparity. These are the lessons being erased from the museums, the papers, and the stories we tell ourselves about who “we” are and who “they” are. Bob Ross, not Barack Obama, is the one true eidolon of post-racial America; and all the talking heads are Rick Perrys, and all the blood on the canvas is one happy little “accident.” And the Methodist Church of the South, in hindsight, leaves her missionaries marooned in the slave quarters, and – to hell with it – says there weren’t any slaves there anyway.

“Perhaps that’s it,” Faulkner writes. “They don’t explain and we are not supposed to know…you bring them together again and again nothing happens: just the words, the symbols, the shapes themselves, shadowy inscrutable and serene, against that turgid background of a horrible and bloody mischancing of human affairs.”

On the first Sunday in July, we went to the service at Mother Emanuel. I went downstairs to find the bathroom, and I found myself in a broad, low-ceilinged room with many chairs organized in rows. Up front, a podium stared outwards to me. A few Sunday school stragglers were still milling about. It was a clean room and there was speaking and laughter, but it struck me that this was the room where nine bodies had fallen. As if all the gravity in Charleston had suddenly descended on me, I could not keep looking and I tried not to think. What depressed me so was not my proximity to a crime scene, or the shooting, or the deaths – it was the unexpected heaviness of lives left incomplete. This was not the weight of spirits, see, but a welling up in the mind of ninefold grief. A solipsist’s grief, as I am so apt to feel, is learned on the seats of wine-dark pews, while watching funerals for people one never met enough to miss. A sadness stemmed from imagining oneself in the casket, one’s family in the front rows, black-adorned. (There is a big, smiling portrait, of course, because one smile in the vale of tears redoubles all our damned despair.)

This was not such a grief. It was born instead in the elliptical vacuum of the self, where for once I did not know history and I did not know need and to these absences came intimacy rushing in – like a geyser rushing – past the bounds of my being and dragging down my head in the alien waters irriguous, wherefore to nourish in a single rinsing forever the Word –



You Can’t Have The Good Without The Bad

Working at Plantersville Summer Academy has been such a rewarding, yet extremely challenging, experience. But that’s the thing about rewarding experiences, they don’t happen unless there’s some challenges and trials that force you to work harder and rethink what you’re doing. During my time at PSA, I’ve been working as the IAP (Individualized Attention Program) Coordinator. Basically, I take kids who appear to be struggling academically and work with them a few times a week, one-on-one. This opportunity has allowed me to get to know over 30 students on a more personal level than I would if I were in a larger classroom. I get to see how these students think and work out math problems in their mind, I get to see them smile when they get the answer right, I get to see their confidence build as they read without skipping a word, but that also means that I get to see them when they’re frustrated, when they’re disheartened, and when they just don’t feel like they’re smart enough.

I’ve tried to make, and meet, some goals at PSA over the summer. I’ve made small goals, like teaching one of my kindergarteners that the number 16 exists and making sure one of my 5th graders is a master at fractions. But I’ve also made some lofty ones, like encouraging my older students to look forward to attending college and seeing improvement in most, if not all, of my students. But as I near the end of my summer, and as my kindergartener continues to forget the number 16, I’ve quickly realized, and reluctantly accepted, that it’s extremely difficult to make and see tangible change during a short, 6-week long summer camp. But that doesn’t take away from the smile on my student’s face when she spelled her name correctly for the first time, or when another student got all of her reading questions correct and hastily did a little dance.

This summer has been extremely difficult and frustrating at times. When I’m teaching a student and they just don’t understand the concept, it’s easy to resort to frustration, and I’ve wrongly done that at times. But as I continue in my internship, I’ve realized that when I face those challenges, I need to rethink what I’m doing and look at what I’m teaching from a new perspective. Although it’s easier to resort to frustration, I’m making my own personal progress by learning to rethink my methods thanks to the students that I have the privilege of teaching.

I’m lucky because this is a lesson that can apply to my broader life. When I’m feeling frustrated, or depressed, or not smart enough, it’s time to get a fresh perspective and rethink what I’m doing to find a rewarding experience. My students can’t experience the joy of getting the answers right and feeling accomplished if they don’t also experience the frustration of not understanding a concept and feeling disheartened. I can’t have rewarding experiences if I don’t face challenges that I must overcome. But that’s life; you can’t have highs without lows. You have to take the good along with the bad.

The idea that good and bad are intertwined has been poignant throughout our time in Georgetown. As we work long hours in our various internships, we’ve realized the thanklessness of non-profit work and understood the (near) impossibility of tangible change, while still accomplishing personal growth and making small, positive contributions. As we live in Georgetown and learn about the rich history and culture of coastal South Carolina, we begin to understand the racism that still pervades this town. As we stood in line to attend Rev. Pinckney’s funeral in Charleston, we mourned the tragic loss of 9 good people, while simultaneously celebrating the realization of marriage equality throughout the U.S. All the good seems to come along with some bad.

And with only 2 weeks left at PSA, I’m hoping for lots of good with my students and a minimal amount of bad.


Fireworks, Bratwurst, Baby Pools: OH MY!

We had a wonderful 4th here in Georgetown! We saw a wonderful parade in Pawleys Island (featuring a float claiming Tupac was still alive?), lounged the day away on the beach (featuring fly overs and flag waving), and celebrated America with hot dogs (just kidding, we went German with some bratwurst and hamburgers). Of course, we kept it tradish with some good old fashioned fireworks and sparklers down at the harbor and a healthy dose of red, white, and blue apparel. Most importantly, we finally bought the baby pool we have all been dreaming about. Spanning a whopping 5’4”, Ali can lie flat in it without hitting her head or toes. It’s the little things. We love America and we love CSOS!!!


Catherine getting sparkly!

Catherine getting sparkly!

Baby, you're a firework. Seriously, I swear this is a pic of a firework.

Baby, you’re a firework. Seriously, I swear this is a pic of a firework.

BN's at the new formation! #oneline #notrows

BN’s at the harbor…in new formation! #oneline #notrows

At the end of the tracks

My job assisting at the unemployment office (run through the Waccamaw Regional Council of Governments) centers me at the heart of some of Georgetown’s most needy. It’s hard to hear the stories of how countless people lost their jobs and have spouses and children to support. It’s made me more sensitive to the economic status of Georgetown. As a tourist destination, Georgetown has a beautiful historical downtown that’s kept in the best condition. As a mill town, Georgetown has two factories churning out steel wire and paper products but still can’t provide jobs for all its citizens. The steel mill will close by the end of the summer, the seasonal jobs will end, and my office will be flooded by people, according to my coworkers. There are hints all around town of Georgetown’s suffering, even if hidden behind our wide streets of live oak, red brick, and green grass. There’s so much beauty in Georgetown and its people, but there’s still so much need in our small community.

This slideshow of pictures I’ve taken on bike rides all over town is meant to reveal some of the different sides of Georgetown:

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1. The sun sets over the Food Lion at the north end of town – just down the road from our house. This parking lot is also the site where produce and other foods from the Lowcountry Food Bank are delivered every month for the hungry to come pick up. It’s a good indicator of the part of town we live in. Our street, North Congdon, is graced by the live oaks like many of the older neighborhoods, but our proximity to a business district, the public schools, and being on the paper mill side of town are all clues to being on the poorer end of Georgetown’s neighborhoods, though not the most hard-up by any means.

2. An oak-lined East Bay Street marks the most eastern edge of town, and the richest. These houses lie in the Historic District on the other end of Front Street.  Planters and traders would have lived here, a reminder of the days when Georgetown’s wealth came from rice and indigo, not steel and paper like it is now.

3, 4, 5. The paper mill stands at the western edge of town. It stays in production around the clock with twinkling lights on at night that are comforting to me. The next two pictures were taken at the railroad junction past the mill. It seemed abandoned when Liz and I biked there one afternoon. The tracks line one the poorest neighborhoods in town, revealing the huge disparity in wealth present in Georgetown. The railroad truly divides the town into different sides of the track.

6, 7. These are views of an abandoned contractor’s building right by town hall, in the heart of town. Signs that Georgetown is struggling are present everywhere, especially in all the empty storefronts in the downtown area. Front Street, the historical street right on the harbor is full of empty windows and an entire section of the street burned to the ground last year. Although the town is currently bustling with tourists, these empty buildings remind me how much ground Georgetown still has to cover.

– Annie

Paper, Pulp and Good People

Since our first night in Georgetown, we’ve been graced by a daily dose of eau de paper mill. Smells aside, International Paper is one of the top employers for the town, and their waterfront mill is a crucial part of the local economy. This Thursday we were fortunate enough to get a tour of the facilities. Set up by the wonderful Jerome Devlin, we got a behind the scenes look at the production of one of our most commonplace commodities. We’re waiting on more pictures, but enjoy this peek at our paper mill tour!

IMG_4227 IMG_1237 IMG_4226

– Khalid

May Grace Now Lead Them Home

Disappointment at a past we can never erase; anger towards a young man on a murderous mission; amazed hope for the human condition thanks to families who forgave: the horrific Charleston shooting that took place on June 17, 2015 cost nine individuals their lives and prompted worldwide reflections on justness, as people like me pored over the news and experienced the full gamut of emotions.


It seemed that communities were coming together over this horrendous hate crime, showing their support to the congregation of Mother Emanuel AME Church through vigils, marches, and prayer meetings. One of our three away weekends immediately followed the shooting, and my family had made plans to visit Charleston together for Father’s Day Weekend, as I had never been before. Despite the tragedy that occurred, we decided to continue with our plans to spend time in Charleston, and on Saturday June 20 we visited Mother Emanuel AME Church. Pastors were leading prayers throughout the day, as locals and tourists alike joined together to pay their respects to the deceased congregation members by laying flowers at the memorial. News crews were buzzing around, interviewing people between prayers; the first anchorwoman I noticed was with an Atlanta news station, but I realized just how globally impactful the shooting was when I heard a woman express that she was with an Italian news channel stationed in Rome. In the face of a terrible event, people of every race and every age across the world seemed to be uniting.

Part of the memorial for the victims of the shooting located directly outside of the church

Part of the memorial for the victims of the shooting located directly outside of the church

However, conflict still erupted in regards to the shooting, as debate began regarding whether or not to allow the Confederate flag in the South Carolina Statehouse. Being in South Carolina made the argument seem even more pertinent to me than if it was merely something separate that I was watching on the news. Sitting in a Georgetown County Council meeting on Tuesday June 23, I was remarkably pleased that the council unanimously voted in support of the South Carolina resolution to remove the flag from the Statehouse. Having heard divided views around town, I was overjoyed by the unanimity, viewing it as giving the county’s support added strength, more powerfully diminishing the prominence of the Battle Flag of the Confederate States.

The ten BNs living together discussed the topics regarding the shooting at length, contemplating the hate crime. Naturally, we wanted to pay our respects for those whose lives were taken, so when we heard that Rev. Clementa Pinckney’s funeral would be open to the public on Friday June 26, a day in which none of us had work, we resolved to visit Charleston and wait in line for the memorial service. We were unsure of how likely it was that we would get in TD Arena at the College of Charleston, especially with President Obama coming to deliver the eulogy, but we decided to at least try.

A message prominently displayed in Downtown Charleston

A message prominently displayed in Downtown Charleston

We arrived early in the morning to queue, and during our first four hours of waiting, I found myself speaking with locals about one of my favorite topics: literature. A kind woman, who began looking out for me as the BNs struggled to stay together with people pushing into line, sneaking their way ahead of us, saw Liz’s copy of Beloved in her hands, and commented to me about the novel. From there we discussed various Toni Morrison works before delving into our favorite poems by Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou. Then, as she was a Charleston native, I asked her how she felt the city handled the inhumane crime that brought us together for a funeral that morning. She confirmed my assumptions, expressing that unity was being reached, though due to a truly malignant act.

Waiting in line for Pinckney's funeral as the sun rises overhead

Waiting in line for Pinckney’s funeral as the sun rises overhead

During our last hour of waiting, people around us were becoming antsy, and swarms began pushing through to get in front in line. With probably a bit less than one-hundred people in front of us, the gates to the arena closed, and we were unable to see the funeral. However, I think we all were incredibly grateful to stand in that line and see the love people were there to express. We heard songs and chants giving glory to God, songs reminding us that we all should be seen as equal. We saw smiles despite the heat, and we saw masses gathering to honor a man many never met but respected nonetheless.

As Americans in today’s fast-paced society, it is all too easy to quickly jump from one thing to the next, but I hope that the reflections gained from this heinous crime are not quickly forgotten. I hope that people in the area, and people around the world, continue to ruminate on the importance of equality, of safety, of love. As Obama expressed in his beautifully delivered eulogy, “Through the example of their lives, they’ve now passed it [grace] on to us. May we find ourselves worthy of that precious and extraordinary gift, as long as our lives endure. May grace now lead them home.”

– Catherine

Mother Emanuel AME Church...

Mother Emanuel AME Church… “May grace now lead them home”

We must never forget to love, and to do so deeply, with our whole hearts

We must never forget to love, and to do so deeply, with our whole hearts

Thoughts on a Wednesday

Last Wednesday I didn’t have to go to work. I got to fall asleep in the car as Ali and Annie drove my sleeping, snoring self to Charleston. Just over an hour from Georgetown, this was my first trip to Charleston since moving to the area and I was excited. I was excited to see the Battery, walk down King Street, and eat good food. Actually, I was giddy. As we crossed the bridge into Charleston I literally stuck my face out of the window in puppy-like fashion as we joked about being “small town girls headed to the big city.”

Our trip to Charleston, however, was not solely for pleasure. In the morning we met with the Low Country Food Bank, a Feeding America organization serving the entire coast of South Carolina, and in the afternoon we met with One80 Place, a homeless shelter housing upwards of 170 clients. Our goal was to connect with organizations that were playing a part in our internships. For Ali, this meant discussing refrigeration and fresh produce with the Low Country Food Bank. For me, this meant discussing partner food pantries with the Low Country folks and the 40-person veteran housing unit with the One80 Place crew. For Annie, this meant seeing the work of SC Works and the unemployment office in action. We were all excited.

For Ali, Annie, and me, that day ended up being more than work, more than pleasure. It was inspiration. It was a chance to see successful non-profits in action, doing meaningful work in a sustainable, creative way. At both sites we were given extensive tours, taught about the operations, leadership, funding, and logistics of each system, and greeted with mutual interest and respect. I personally was amazed by the hope displayed by the One80 Place outreach coordinator and the organization and range of services at the Low Country Food Bank.

Living in the real world and having a somewhat real job has been slightly disconcerting at times. Different than the comfort of our Duke classrooms where we are taught that all we need to do is work hard and care A LOT and we can make positive change, here in Georgetown we are constantly faced with how difficult the world can be. Some days I leave work frustrated. Frustrated at the poverty that ravages our new community. Frustrated at the restaurants and shops on Front Street compared to crumbling homes found in the shade of the paper mill. Frustrated even by non-profits themselves, all competing for the limited resources afforded to them instead of aiding one another. Frustrated that no matter what I do, there will still be injustice and neglect and inefficiency. However, the Low Country Food Bank and One80 Place eased that frustration, that hopelessness, even if only for a day. To see these groups in action was not only a comfort, but a challenge. It is the work of those who care and who are able to stand up and speak up. To not be frustrated by hopelessness and bullied into quitting, but to remain stubborn in the face of failure and fear. On that Wednesday, I found that solace. The drive to keep going. The drive and the promise that doing good WAS good. That giving up in the face of despair is never the answer.

Resting in the shade at One80 Place, an incredible homeless shelter in Charleston, SC

Resting in the shade at One80 Place, an incredible homeless shelter in Charleston, SC

That afternoon, we returned home to Georgetown. That night, 9 people were shot and killed in the very place where that day I had found so much light. The world is not perfect, not even close. But that does not mean we should quit. In fact, we must be encouraged. When people do wrong, like ravaging a house of worship and a group of welcoming, innocent souls in a true act of terror…this is when we must not give up. This is when frustration at wrong doing and pain and suffering cannot turn into despair, but must turn into action.

Powerful words in the streets of Charleston, SC

Powerful words ring out in the streets of Charleston

When we returned to Charleston to (attempt) to attend Reverend Pinckney’s funeral, banners hung from almost every building we passed. These banners offered quotes, encouragements, and messages to Emanuel AME, the people of Charleston, and the entire country, with a common theme: love. One of my favorite banners read: “No matter how dark the nights, the day is sure to come.” The day is sure to come.


We Will Survive

Sometimes, you need to hear about success from someone who not only has it, but has become renowned for his or her triumphs. Such an individual serves as living proof that a proper combination of hard work and perseverance can reap favorable results, serving as a source of inspiration for those who wonder whether or not their efforts will truly pay off in the end. Last week, singer Gloria Gaynor, who won a Grammy Award for her disco single “I Will Survive” in 1978, visited Plantersville Summer Academy to share the secrets to success with the students: hard work and education. I, along with several other members of the BN Duke Class of 2018, visited Plantersville to hear her speak.

Gloria Gaynor with the Plantersville Summer Academy students (and Gabi!)

Gloria Gaynor with the Plantersville Summer Academy students (and Gabi!)

Before singing her lionized song “I Will Survive”, Gaynor, dubbed the ‘Disco Queen’, shared her own humble background with the students of Plantersville Summer Academy. She stressed to them that her family had very little money while she was growing up, but they had a great deal of love for one another, emphasizing that money should never be viewed as the most important thing. Furthermore, she emphasized that the success she found in her singing career stemmed from never giving up and always putting forth her best efforts in all that she did, encouraging the children to work hard and follow their passions in order to accomplish their goals.


Gloria Gaynor at Plantersville Summer Academy

Most importantly, Ms. Gaynor, who recently received her college diploma, stressed to the impressionable minds sitting before her that education is key to all that one seeks to accomplish in this world. Expressing that scholarships and financial aid are available so that anyone can pursue an undergraduate education, Ms. Gaynor planted a seed in the minds of the elementary and middle school students in her midst, causing them to begin thinking about the reality of higher education at an early age. In doing so, she reminded them of the importance of their current status as young scholars, encouraging them to work hard as they learn to read, write, and apply mathematical concepts, so that down the road they can achieve whatever lofty goals they set before themselves in the future.


Planes and Monster Trucks and Guns! Oh My!


This past weekend has been pretty eventful. Thanks to Mr. Funnye, we started our Friday with plane rides. Walking into the airport, it was hard for us to contain our excitement to see Georgetown from above. But, once we were told that we would be 20150612_201722able to fly the planes as well, we couldn’t wipe the excitement from our faces. Each BN walked out of the plane with an inextinguishable smile painted on. One BN was so excited that she even wanted to purchase a personal plane.jack brad

Some may find flying a plane enough for a day but not us. After a quick group gym run, we got ready for the Monster Jam (more commonly referred to as just Jam). Jam was far better than we could have ever expected. We all knew that watching large trucks jump over other cars for hours would have been invigorating. However, we did not expect voices to have been lost from excitement or fence climbing to have occurred. Jam gave us more than I could have hoped for–it gave us a greater appreciation for big trucks.

Monster truck

To recover from the sight of the Scooby Doo truck and the BN Jam attire (particularly Jack’s hippie look), we spent most of Saturday at the beach. But don’t worry, our weekend was not over yet. On Sunday morning, we were allowed to attend Shiloh church, a small, family style church. While it was similar to Bethel church in having a tight community, Shiloh church demonstrated how different services in Georgetown could be conducted. From having a band of solely children to having a choir of three, the church definitely operated in a different fashion from Bethel and churches that we were used to. We truly adored the atmosphere of the tightly-knit Shiloh church and are thankful that they invited us.

shiloh church

As our final adventure for the weekend, a few of us went to a gun range to take our first shots. Barak, the only one of us who has actually shot a gun before, took initiative and courageously led us through the afternoon. After looking at the intimidating rifle and hearing the shots ring through the wall, a few of us were definitely nervous. Nevertheless, these nerves quickly dissipated and left behind a desire to shoot until we had to purchase more ammo. Some of us went trigger-happy; others actually took their time to hit the target. Either way, I think everyone had a great time shooting!