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.
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.
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.