Hello! I’m Anna, one of the seniors involved in this service-learning interim. I’ve learned so much from these past three or so weeks. But before I launch into that, I would like you to know that my fellow students and our course instructors are some of the most admirable, intelligent, and kind people I’ve ever met. Also, this might be the most random, unorganized post you’ve ever read.
As I write this entry, I am listening to President Obama in his State of the Union address. “The State of the Union,” he says, “is getting stronger.” There is a lot of hope in that statement; it may sound assertive but it feels hopeful. In much of our interactions over the past three weeks or so, hope seems to be the battery. It keeps these communities going. Politics is a recurring topic, too. Us students shake our heads. We hate politics. But we’ve been encouraged more than once to run for office. “I’ll move wherever you go and vote for you,” people have told us.
On Friday, we drove to Woodlawn. At the resource center, we got a brief on Medicare, Medicaid, Cooper Green, and a possible outcome of the implementation of universal healthcare. We learned that with the passing of the new immigration law, Cooper Green has seen a 58% drop in total patient care. Jefferson County, according to our speaker, is the third most obese county in the country and is ranked fifteenth for the amount of STDs. African-American women ages sixteen to twenty-three have the highest rates of HIV. We learned that UAB has a free birthing ward, and that Princeton and Brookwood do take charity cases, but other than that, Birmingham offers a small amount of free healthcare to its people. You might not know (I didn’t before this January) that there is such a thing as a Blue Card; it’s eligible for use at Cooper Green, a county hospital. With the Blue Card, a person can receive free medical care. To receive the Blue Card, a person must prove that she or he has been living in Alabama for a year, and in Jefferson county for at least one month. This is problematic for many people who do not have identification or proof that they have indeed lived in this area. There is also an income limit; I do not have the specifics on that, but if your income is above (even slightly so) the cutoff, you are ineligible.
After this medical affairs briefing, we headed over the Interfaith Hospitality House to watch In Time starring the one, the only Justin Timberlake. In this movie, time is the new money. Everyone walks around with the countdown to their death on their arm. Those with a lot of time left are the wealthy; those with, say, 14 hours, are the poor. The wealthy humans live a few “time” zones from the poor. To even get to the rich time zones, one must exchange like 2 months or a year. This is already getting tricky to explain but really the major point is that there is a major time/income gap between these two sets of people, and that the wealthiest didn’t get their centuries of time by working hard; they got that time by exploiting people. Justin tries to set this right, but really just ends up robbing time banks and giving time to missions for people who are out of time. Effective? Hmm. Efficient? Not really. But it does point to the hard part about systems: they are frustrating and controlled by people who may or may not have the best interest in mind for the people living within those systems.
We had the weekend off, but Monday we were ready to go. Due to some bad weather the night before, there was a change in plans. The Woodlawn group (Julian, Courtney, Rachel, Jackie, and I) helped out at Urban Kids with the West End group (Jarrett, Lauren, Lindsay, Mrs. Becky, and Dr. Tatter). It was fun. The kids read their books to us, but really couldn’t wait to play in the playroom with the basketballs and jump ropes. Jarrett brought his pet parakeet Buddy. Buddy did well for a tiny bird around tiny children.
There are many questions that I have—of myself, of my fellow college students, of the American government. Things feel hopeless often times. I feel hopeless that the public education system will ever improve in Birmingham, for instance. But really, truly, we can’t give up. Maybe “rights” don’t exist, but people do. People like you and me who love music and books and basketball. So we keep hoping for something better because…well I don’t really know, honestly. It might go back to the Golden Rule. It might come down to seeing the divine in each person that we meet, or feeling solidarity with our fellow humans. Maybe it’s all we can do to keep moving. I’m not in a position of power; I used to assume this meant that I couldn’t do anything effective, anything worthwhile, since those systems would still be in place—making life harder than it has to be for many. But we can do little things to offset the effects of these systems. So, I think we should never stop asking questions and expecting more out of our leaders. Also, turn right off of campus.
Oh, and one more thing. When you have the time, watch this movie. http://www.pbs.org/pov/boysofbaraka/
Or maybe visit this boutique in Woodlawn: http://blog.al.com/businessnews/2011/12/city_arts_boutique_is_woodlawn.html
Thanks for reading.