Growing up, I always felt stuck between two worlds. My family has always observed Jewish rituals and commandments, and therefore, belonged to a traditional congregation. However, we also identify with the more modern Jewish community’s ideology and warmth, where observance is often less common. While I was partially drawn to Emory because of its active and vibrant Jewish life, I did not consider that, despite the large number of Jews, the observant population would be quite limited.
One of the most central aspects of Jewish observance is the Sabbath, or Shabbat. Friday to Saturday evening marks the Jewish day of rest. For this period of twenty-five hours, acts of creation and work, such as the use of electricity, writing, and driving, are prohibited. Disengaging from these activities can be isolating, and therefore, having a strong community to celebrate Shabbat with is integral to the experience. As my first Shabbat at college approached, I grew concerned about how I would sustain my observance without a community to support me.
I began my Shabbat by attending Hillel, the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life that hosts weekly Shabbat dinner and prayers. With tunes reminiscent of my summer camp and a traditional Friday night meal, this experience certainly gave me the familiar sense of community that I was striving to find. However, as I arrived at my dorm, I immediately returned to my apprehensive state. Twenty-four hours of Shabbat still remained, and I did not know who I would spend them with when everyone was busy binging on Netflix, doing homework, or exploring Atlanta while I was restricted to reading in my bed.
I frantically called my parents, willing to use my phone on Shabbat if it meant gaining some insights and support. “Be easy on yourself,” they told me, and this was not the first time I needed this reminder. “This is a period of adjustment, and you can only do what feels manageable. Give yourself time to find an arrangement that you feel comfortable with.” Until then, they encouraged me to strive to maintain the spirit of the day, even if I found it unsustainable to adhere to all of the legalities.
As my parents spoke, I began engaging in an internal dialogue about my thoughts on the matter. They had been so understanding, but was their approach too generous? I had been observing Shabbat my whole life, and I let it go so easily. Too easily? My failure to practice Shabbat alone must indicate a lack of commitment to Judaism, I judged. And what will my friends and teachers – who invested so much and were so confident in my religious connection – think about this sudden development? Even though I am using my phone, should I resist opening the Facebook app, so my friends do not see that I am active? No matter how much justification I could offer for my personal choices, I could not help feeling ashamed, blaming myself for taking the easy way out, even as I repeated the motto “be easy on yourself” in my head. The dialogue persisted, and I felt little relief.
Even though I did not immediately arrive at a conclusion that I had full confidence in, there was nothing to do but compromise. I spent my day resting, taking a tranquil walk at Lullwater Preserve, and joining a community for a traditional Shabbat lunch. I also settled for a little Netflix watching. Of course, there were still holes in my day, but I felt fairly positive about my approach, despite its limitations.
My experience of this single day spoke to a larger truth about the college transition. I cannot expect it to be effortless, and there will be unforeseen challenges. It will take time to adjust and make choices I feel comfortable with as I gain independence. Sometimes I miss the comfort of spending Shabbat at home, but I know that as I find a way to sustain this practice in college, I will develop true ownership over it, and that will be incredibly meaningful. Isn’t that what college is about?
Finally,” I thought “No more class. I can just relax before I have to drag myself to work.” Like any other college student, I had been anticipating the weekend. No more class, no more lectures, just me, my music, and my bed. Swiftly, I jumped onto my lofted bed, propped open my laptop and turned on Daniel Caesar. Next, I quickly pulled my throw blanket over me. Under my blanket, I closed my eyes and dissolved all my thoughts so I could focus on the music.
“What? Uh huh… yeah sure,” Ashleigh, my roommate, uttered into her phone as she slipped into the room.
With each word she spoke, my barrier of placidity slowly dissolved until only I laid there desperately trying to regain my tranquility. Lying there made me think of the good ole days when I had my own room and could keep it as peaceful as I desired. I missed being nearly the only person with authority over what happened in my space. After a few minutes, she finally turned and looked at me. “Hey, did you want to go to the beach after you come back from work today? T’ambra’s boss gave her tickets for a club’s anniversary so we can go there on Saturday night too. I didn’t know if you wanted to come or not, but I am going to go,” Ashleigh questioned. A trip sounded amusing, and I needed more fun in my life. Since arriving, I had found myself complaining about not experiencing much and only staying in my room. Now was my chance to have a fun new experience. Quickly, I tried to think of all the reasons why I should not go. Homework came to mind, as well as sleep and the fact that I loathe beaches, but I could not really think of anything else. “You don’t have to go if you don’t want to,” Ashleigh offered.
“No, I want to. It’s not like I have anything better to do,” I admitted.
“Okay, great. We will leave when you come back from work” Ashleigh declared. As Ashleigh returned to her phone conversation I glanced at the time. Unfortunately, I had to leave for work. I reluctantly dragged myself out of bed and set out to the Telefund. Once I returned from work, I found Ashleigh packing for the trip and I began to pack too.
“Hey, did you want to text your mom that we were going to Florida?” Ashleigh asked. I stared at her baffled. Florida? I assumed we would be in another town in Georgia. “Oh, sorry. I keep forgetting you are not from here. Yeah, the beach is in Florida.” Ashleigh stated. Telling my mom sounded like the right thing to do, but I had a strong feeling that she would not approve. I could already see how the conversation would go.
“Hey, mom. Can I go on a road trip to another state in a car full of strangers so I can go to the club tomorrow?”.
“Ha, oh lord Faith. Why would you want to do that? You have homework you should be doing. You do not know these people or their parents and neither do I. You have no phone. What if someone is trying to kill you? How are you going to call me? Are there going to be boys? And why do you want to go to the club? Remember Jesus and school come first,” my mom would blurt with her Congolese accent.
“So…I cant go?”.
“I don’t have time for this faith, tsk” she would retort before hanging up on me. I made a rational decision; my mom did not need to know.
“No, my mom’s probably really busy. I will just email her later,” I affirmed to Ashleighy. Part of my reasoning behind leaving the state for college was that I would have more autonomy. I wanted to make decisions for myself without the influence of my mom, and that is exactly what I did. After we finished packing we left the Plex to meet Ashleigh’s friends downstairs.
Once we finally squished our bags into the back of the tiny white Honda Accord, we disembarked on our journey. Three other people accompanied us on our trip: T’ambra, Ashleigh’s friend from high school, Jay, T’ambra’s godsister, and Trey, T’ambra’s younger brother. Previously I had met T’ambra, but I did not know anyone else in the car.
“You’re quiet Faith” Jay observed, “are we to ratchet for you?” They were not too ratchet for me, I just did not know them and had never been in this environment before. They seemed like genuinely nice people, but I could not relate to them. While I do admit that I have been in unusual situations before, they were not like the ones in what they described as their ratchet small town. Especially since I spent most of my life in towns with mostly upper-middle-class conservative Christians. Instead of talking, I laughed along at their stories and listened to the mix of gospel and hip-hop music blasting from the car stereo.
After five long hours squished in the tiny car, we arrived in Panama City. Immediately after we checked into the hotel, we went to Walmart to buy food.
We purchased food that we never ended up cooking and eventually returned. Once we returned to the hotel, we spent the rest of the night having our own dance party until we all started falling asleep.
The next day, Ashleigh’s dad, who was in Destin, invited us to eat dinner with him and his family to celebrate Ashleigh’s little sister Aubrey’s birthday. Before we went to dinner, we decided to go to the mall. On the way there, I got a better view of the city. Panama City reminded me of Galveston, Texas.
The shops and the pier reminded me of all the cute shops and Pleasure Pier in Galveston. In fact, I even saw a Whataburger, a Texas fast food restaurant, and I nearly screamed. I gladly embraced the feeling of nostalgia and let my memories of home slowly drift into my head. Nights spent on the beach with my friends and my drill team came first. This reminded me of Friday night lights in the stadium. I smiled at the thought of doing my drill team officer strut and doing high kicks on the field. Whataburger was always the move after games and I could not help thinking of all the nights I spent there after games and when I was an employee. I never really appreciated those moments back in high school. Accustomed to them, they just seemed like a part of life, and once they were taken away I appreciated them more.
Later that day, we arrived at the seafood restaurant Ashleigh’s family chose for dinner. Seeing the adorable little kids run around immediately made me think of my own little sister. Even though she drove me insane I still missed her. When Ashleigh’s sister ran to hug her, it reminded me of all the days I came home to find my sister, who was two at the time, running to the door eager to see me and ready for my embrace. Following dinner, we rushed back to the hotel to get ready to go to the club.
At the club, I did not like most of the songs the DJ played. In addition to all the sweat dripping off people’s backs, vomit appeared on the floor in corner of the club. To make matters worse, some creepy Jamaican guy would not stop harassing Jay. Despite this, I am glad I went because I had wanted to experience what it was like to go to a club. After an hour, we decided to leave.
On Sunday morning, we finally made it to the beach.
Unlike Galveston beach, this beach had blue water. Seagulls and butterfly flew around and seashells covered the sand. Unfortunately, trash also covered the sand. Dirty diapers, cigarette butts, and bottle caps were among my findings.
Despite the unsettling presence of trash, I did enjoy the beach. At one point a little girl swam up to us and asked if we had seen any mermaids. Before I could respond, her sister blurted, “mermaids aren’t real, stupid”. Although I am not a fan of beaches, I enjoyed taking the time to relax, something I was still struggling to do in my first few weeks of school.
Eventually, we had to leave so that I would get back to school in time for work.
“Only an hour and thirty minutes left,” T’ambra announced. This would leave me nearly two hours before I had to report to work. Satisfied, I stopped worrying.
“Clink, clink, clink,” screamed the car. Next one of the wheels started to wobble. We had to pull over.
“Really God? Not cool man, we were almost there,” I protested. On the outside, however, I maintained a sanguine façade. Unfortunately, we did not have a way to get off the road quickly. Internally, I prayed that someone would come help us so I could still make it to work. Suddenly an RV pulled up. “Finally! We are saved!” I thought. I thought wrong. It turns out the RV had a similar issue. After waiting for an hour, a man pulled up to help us. Once again, I was deceived. Sadly, the serviceman could not help us. As if I did not already have enough problems, my own body turned against me and kept complaining that it had to pee. Since we had exhausted all our options, we decided to wait for T’ambra’s parents to pick us up. While we waited for T’ambra’s parents to rescue us, we decide that we should try to get off the highway.
Shortly after we left the highway, we spotted a gas station. To our dismay, the gas station was no longer in service. Trey decided to change the messed-up tire. As soon as he finished, he took off in the car without us. Fortunately, after a nice phone call from his parents, he returned. Once he returned, we decided that we should try to get back to Emory. After turning on some gospel music, we took off hoping that we would not die.
Thankfully we made it back to school safely. Even though I missed work and had to pee behind the old gas station, I am glad I went on the trip. Although the trip did not end the way I had hoped, I still had a wonderful time. The trip made me more appreciative of what I left behind in Texas: a loving family and many wonderful experiences that I cannot find anywhere else. The whole trip made me realize that to some extent I did miss my family, friends and my life in high school. Despite some setbacks, I am glad that I made the decision to go on my own. As I stated previously, my purpose for leaving the state for school was to be more self-reliant. While I do not think it is a problem to get advice from my mom, I think it is time that I learn to do things with as little help from her as possible. Too often I find myself stopping myself from doing things because my mom would not like them. The problem with that is that my mother and I are very different and some things she sees unnecessary are things I enjoy doing.
This whole process forced me to think harder about what I expect to get out of my college experience and how I am going to go about doing it. Hopefully, more opportunities for me to venture outside of the Emory bubble will surprise me soon.
I pulled up to the cutest little house on Elm Street in an Uber and called my mom to tell her I was outside, she said she tracked my phone and already knew so the door was unlocked. She tracked my phone as long as I remembered because my mom is the definition of over protective. When I walked in, the kitchen was filled with savory aromas; if only I could share that smell with a picture. She had Camellia red beans simmering in a pot, crawfish étouffée in a bowl, and had just began preparations for stuffed bell peppers.
I said “Wow, ma. You really transformed this AirBNB into the ‘Elm Street Eatery’ with all this cooking.” She recanted in that New Orleans accent that I had missed so much, “Girllllll, when you told me that you ain’t had no red beans in three whole weeks, I had to come see ya. That should be illegal.” She poured me a glass of wine and told me to let her know how the étouffée was, even though she had cooked it over a hundred times since I was born.
She had flown with so many pots, pans, and bags of seafood stuffed in her checked luggage that TSA broke the locks on her bags.
She saw me taking pictures of everything and said “You and that damn snapchat, always taking pictures. Just live!” I explained to her that it was for a school assignment and that I was posting on a blog. Upon hearing that, she said “oh, well take a better picture of me!” I ended up bargaining with her, I would only take a better picture of her if she fixed me a bowl of red beans.
She finally finished cooking everything she planned to, and sat down and talked with me about what was happening back home, how my classes were, and the cases of water she wanted to get me in preparation for the hurricane heading toward Georgia. After eating my favorite meal ever, stuffed bell peppers and baked macaroni and cheese; she suggested we end my blog with a “cute selfie.”
With the dawn of a new school year, comes the dawn of new changes for Emory University. While some, such as the demolition of the Dobbs University Center, are extremely obvious, there are others that aren’t known to the general public. The Black Male Initiative (BMI) is a pilot program targeted at first-year black males at the University. The purpose of the program is to counteract the disproportionately high dropout rate experienced by black males in comparison to their other peers. To do this, the program is designed to give black, male, first-year students both academic and professional resources as well as develop leadership and comradery between each other through events, workshops, and outing in Atlanta. It great to know the purpose of the program, but it’s much more important to see the impact and effectiveness of said program. How do current students feel about the program? Why or why not students applied to BMI? How well known is the program in the Emory community? To answer these questions, we decided to interview three students, Aaron Campbell, Christopher Benedict, and Alex Koo, in order to provide more perspective.
When speaking with Aaron Campbell, a member of the pilot program we learned more about what the program means to him, the Emory community, and the greater black community. The desire to be surrounded by “an environment where black people did well… were successful… [and] were educated” drove Campbell to initially apply for the program. It was clear that Campbell felt as though this program was important and he wanted to be a part of it, due to its recognition of such a prevalent issue. Regarding the BMI’s relationship with other first-years in Harris Hall, Campbell expressed a generally positive relationship between the two groups but voiced concern that “more awareness” could be drawn to the purpose of the initiative itself.
We found the remarks made by Aaron regarding the BMI to be quite interesting, but we wanted to know how others who were not part of the program saw it; more specifically, a black male who did not participate in it and one of Campbell’s fellow hall mates. Christopher Benedict is another first-year black male at the University, who unlike Aaron, decided not to be part of the BMI. Benedict argued that while the idea of a program such as the BMI was good, he wanted a more “immersive” first-year experience. Another first-year named Alex Koo is a current resident of Harris Hall as well. When asked about the BMI she did not initially know what it was, however, after we explained to Koo the premises behind it, she had a better understanding. Koo described being put in a sophomore dorm as “shocking,” however, much like Campbell, she described the atmosphere as a “friendly community.” Koo recognized Emory University’s proactiveness to take the initiative to set up the program, but she did voice concern that more information regarding its purpose should be advertised to other members of the University.
Overall, it seems like the Black Male Initiative here at Emory is just the first step to a longer process. Being that this is the pilot year and the year just got started, it’s hard to judge whether the program is effective in meeting its goals. However, it can be concluded from speaking to Campbell and Koo that the BMI creates a close community for participants surrounded with like-minded individuals. Moreover, the program is being proactive in trying to solve such a pressing issue, therefore we can see the strides being taken and a possible bright future for the BMI and university.