In March, 2010, CWE Director Dona Yarbrough brought nine Emory students to Leland, Mississippi for an Alternative Spring Break with Habitat for Humanity. These are her thoughts on that experience.
Blog 4: Thursday, March 11, 2010
It’s hard to believe we are leaving tomorrow. Today I worked on attaching blue insulation foam to the outer walls of the house. Many of our students put up the roof. I worked under the tutelage of Roxanne. She and her husband were called by God to travel around the country in their RV, building homes all over the country for Habitat. They’ve been doing it for 18 months. Soon they will have to stop and work for a few months in order to, as Roxanne puts it, “feed our Habitat habit.” When Roxanne talks about the joy and freedom of selling all of her stuff and reducing her life to RV size . . . well, it makes you think.
It is incredible to watch the love that has blossomed between our students and the Care-a-vanners. I know it is amazing for our students to work side by side with people who have made service a huge part of their lives, and I know the Care-a-vanners are invigorated by being around sincere, smart, fun, and hard-working young people. After just four days, these groups – separated by three or four decades – are playing cards together, laughing together, and hurrying to be able to sit next to each other at meal times. Tonight we ate a Neisa Ray’s, a restaurant in Black Dog, one of Leland’s African American neighborhoods. My table could not get over the baked chicken, perhaps the best I have ever had in my life. Copies of recipes, requested earlier in the week, were passed around: Poppy Seed Chicken, Ramen Noodle Salad, Poor Man’s Éclair, and Sicilian Meatloaf. Reverend Ray and some of his congregation provided the entertainment – gospel music, Delta style.
As is the case in most of the United States, churches in Leland are self-segregated by race. The Habitat build is an event that brings Black and White churches together in a common cause – to raise money, to feed volunteers, and to work on the houses. It’s clear that over time cross-racial friendships have been built while houses were being built. That means a lot in a town that began as the site of three large slave-owning plantations.
At the end of the evening, we had a hard time leaving –we all had to hug everyone twice, promise to swap pictures over the internet, and take one final photo with our favorite Care-a-vanner. As Davis, one of Leland’s long-time residents and a Habitat volunteer, said, “You have left a little bit of yourself here with us, and we hope you will take a little bit of us home with you.”