New York: The Greatest City in the World (Not)

Hamilton The Musical once told me that New York was “the greatest city in the world.” But after spending two weeks living in Brooklyn and visiting four of the five boroughs, I realized the New York we picture in our minds stands as a facade in front the reality of New York City.

Let me start from the beginning…

I arrived at JFK in NYC on Sunday, August 27th and this was my first view of New York.20170827_144349

I immediately felt overwhelmed by the size of New York: the buildings, traffic, people, and highways. The city swallowed me whole. Luckily, I didn’t face NYC alone.

After arriving at a community center in Brooklyn, I met the other 19 students in my program, the program director, NY coordinating staff, my fellow, Loveleen, and the traveling faculty, Juan and Carmen. My program, International Honors Program (IHP): Cities in the 21st Century investigates cities and how to make them more just. We study Culture and Society, Urban Planning and Sustainable Environments, Politics and Development, and an independent study project of our choosing.

The first couple days consisted of orientation. We visited the Queens Museum (where I had the best Mexican food), walked by the U.S. Open stadium, saw an accurately scaled diorama, called the panorama, of NYC, and took a walking tour of Lower Manhattan (See Pictures Below).




Here is the Panorama, pay close attention to the photo with the Twin Towers. This section of the diorama will never be updated.

While taking the walking tour of Lower Manhattan we learned about history, important sites, zoning, and saw famous places like Wall Street, the Stock Exchange (notice the Texas flag? To show solidarity with the victims of the hurricane), China Town, the new World Trade Center, Trinity Church (HAMILTON NERD!), and amazing architecture of sky scrapers.

As we learned about the history of Manhattan, and the greater New York City, I saw places, like the World Trade Center, that have been built over the history of NYC. New York also has hidden history that most people do not know. Wall Street is called Wall Street because it used to be a wall that separated the White Colonists from the agrarian area primarily populated by Black Slaves. Additionally, not all people had their history and experience appropriately remembered in NYC. Under colonial rule of the Dutch, Trinity Church cemetery served as the cemetery for all people in the area, until the British took control from the Dutch. Then, the bodies of African Slaves were exhumed and moved away from the center of the city, basically disposed of in mass graves with no marker. It wasn’t until the late 20th century that the bones of those individuals were found during a U.S. Government building project. Now they have a humble monument on a very small portion of the land that used to be used for their burial.

The theme of New York being more than meets the eye, especially by means of injustice, continued as my group examined housing and labor in NYC (to be discussed in my next post). Juan Arbona, one of our traveling faculty, stated:

“The city is a material expression of its historic, economic and political processes” 

Juan’s quote has stuck with me as I’ve investigated NYC, especially in Hunts Point, Bronx.

A group of five students visited Hunts Point, Bronx to meet with Omar, the founder of Green Workers’ Cooperative, an organization that works to promote entrepreneurship in the neighborhood through the co-op structure. Omar provided insight about Hunts Point and it became obvious that this neighborhood’s residents had been ignored by the NYC municipalities and private developers since the 1960’s. In the 1970’s, people would say “the bronx is burning” because it was literally on fire. Areas were red-lined, which meant people couldn’t buy homes and renters couldn’t afford rent, so landlords burned their buildings to collect the insurance money (which surpassed what they collected in rent each month). The city built massive highways through the middle of Hunts Point for commerce, against the wishes of the residents. Today, Hunts Point has the highest rate of asthma in the country, because 10,000 semi-trucks drive through the area a day to sustain the largest meat market in the U.S. (which was moved out of Manhattan to hunts Point because it was unsanitary and required so much traffic).

The area also houses a waste-water treatment plant and, until 3 years ago, a transfer waste sludge factory, which closed after protests of neighborhood residents. Omar told our group that the city government has to place these facilities somewhere, so they look for areas in which they will face the least political resistance, i.e. a primarily lower-class, immigrant neighborhood composed of People of Color. As a result of their ignored voices, the people of Hunts Point coined “the Bronx is not for sale” and actively resist the government and developers that ignore their voices. Omar said “we need to create our own alternatives” because no one else will do it for them, hence his co-op model. I was moved by the active participation of Omar, his team, and the numerous co-ops they help to create a better existence for themselves and their neighborhood against the oppression of the louder forces working in Hunts Point and the greater Bronx area.

In the above photo: Genna (my roommate), Sebastian, Omar, Me, Autumn, Sukhan.

Omar was only the first of many people to tear away my idealized version of New York as a place only of Broadway, Wall Street, sky scrapers, and picturesque Manhattan.

Note: See the Gallery for more photos of my time in NYC and stay tuned for the next installment of NYC!



Re-Issued: Blessed Are…

At the end of last semester, Sarah Belles, the Methodist campus minister and pastor at my church, asked us at Methodist College Fellowship what Jesus would say today if he were to re-issue the beatitudes from Matthew 5. I wrote some of the things I think Jesus would say to remind us of God’s love for all kinds of people. I pray that you see yourself as blessed by God, after all, blessings manifest themselves in ways, and in people, we don’t expect.

Here are my “additional” beatitudes.

Blessed are the mediators, for God smiles upon you.

Blessed are the confused, for God gives direction.

Blessed are the weary, for God gives strength.

Blessed are the liberals, conservatives, libertarians, and unaffiliated, for God takes no sides and opens His kingdom to all.

Blessed are all kinds of bodies, for we are all created in God’s image.

Blessed are those who don’t comprehend, for God gives his eyes to those who ask.

Blessed are the world politicians and governments, for Gods kingdom rules.

Blessed are the ones with secrets, for God knows and loves unconditionally.

Blessed are the Atheists, Muslims, Jews, Agnostics, Hindus, Buddhists, and other non-christians, for God loves them too.

Blessed are the silent and silencers, for God’s justice transcends.

Blessed are those in war zones, bombed and defeated, for God has already won the victory.

Blessed are those that are “done”, for God will never be done with you, his strength extends to all.

Blessed are the radicals, for Jesus’ teachings and God’s love are called radical.

Blessed are the patient, for God’s plan is always on time.

*Thanks to Sarah for this amazing prompt! Also, credit for the featured image.*



It’s About Time

The first mental breakdown I had at Summer Beach Project (SBP) on the fourth day in Myrtle Beach led me to a question I hadn’t addressed in a while: Why am I here? I feel confident saying that I think we’ve all asked that question at some point in our lives, especially during times of trials or transitions. For me, I had lived in 5 states in the past year, missed my best friends in New Mexico more than anything, just finished my first year of college, and now I was in a grungy city in the deep south, alone (or so it seemed) attempting to figure out the meaning of life and God. I was a mess! However, God had a plan.

The Bible memory verse for the first week at SBP was Romans 11:33

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways!” (ESV)

While it might seem that this verse has nothing to do with my purpose on earth, it was the most important stepping stone in leading me to God’s truth. As I reflected on this verse I had a re-realization of the fact that God must reveal himself to us. We cannot simply create a checklist of all the things we want to know about God today, or this year, and attempt to check all the boxes so that we can say “I know God THIS much.” This mindset leads us to feeling as though we’ve failed to know the Creator; well, duh! God’s wisdom and knowledge spans far beyond our understanding. God’s ways are far superior to anything we can understand, so no matter how much we go to church, or read the Bible, or pray, or go to fellowship groups, we cannot figure God out! Relationships don’t work that way!

Now don’t get me wrong, prayer, scripture reading, and fellowship are all essential in our journey with God, but we have to change our mindsets about why we do those things. I was fortunate enough to have a team leader at SBP (shoutout to Emily!) that led me to John 17:3. The coolest part about this passage: it’s Jesus praying for future believers, so us! He says:

“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (ESV)

Emily and I read the verse and then she said “How cool is it that God has given us the chance to practice that here on earth.” In that moment, it hit me! Our purpose on earth does not consist of success, attaining our goals, or even being the best Christian possible. Our purpose: to know God and Jesus Christ…that’s it! It sounds too good to be true, but Jesus said it Himself. Eternal life is to know God and know Christ, and our very short time on earth allows us to practice just that. Our relationship with God isn’t based on our ability to know the most about the Bible, pray the most, or even lead the most people to salvation (even though these are all very important!), but simply spending time with God and allowing God to reveal Himself to us.

We will never know everything about the ocean, we can’t even see it’s entirety in one picture, but that doesn’t mean we don’t know about certain aspects of the ocean. When we swim in the sea we don’t always know what’s going on underneath out feet or far into the ocean where our eyes see the sky touch the water, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy spending time in it’s presence. God works the same way. While he might be unsearchable and far beyond our comprehension, we can spend time with Him and enjoy His presence bringing us into a deeper, more intimate relationship than our vain searching ever could.

The pier in Myrtle Beach behind our hotel.

After God provided this amazing revelation, my attitude, and the course of events, for the rest of the summer completely changed.

Around the World in 110 Days