Miscellaneous » J-Term 2017 » Faith, Race, and Community

Faith, Race, and Community

Junior Elizabeth Eby describes her recent J-term course, Civil Rights in Mississippi, as “an opportunity to learn more about civil rights and feel connected to people” in Noxubuee County, Mississippi, one of the poorest and most segregated counties in the U.S.

Teacher Brent Reinhardt led the group of 14 students to a community near Macon, Miss., where they were hosted at the Mashulaville Dormitory by Larry Miller and his wife Maxine (Kauffman), a 1964 Bethany grad. Larry and Maxine have lived in Mashulaville since the mid 1960s, devoting much of their lives to combating racism within their local community.

Elizabeth points out the timeliness of this topic stating, “There are lots of problems going on right now with race in our country. I thought it would be nice to meet more people of other races and learn from their perspectives.”

Students learned about  segregation in the area, which continues to affect housing  and school demographics, with whites primarily attending private schools and blacks public schools.  Students also learned about the Choctaw nation, visiting the cultural center on their reservation in Philadelphia, Miss.

 The group had a rhythm of doing service work and interacting with local community members.  “We painted a lady’s porch, and while some did that, others went inside and talked with her about her life,” says Elizabeth.

At each place where the students did service work, they would go inside, sing the first the verse of Amazing Grace and then pray. “ The leader (Larry) really wanted us to get close to the people—touch them, speak with them, get to know them,” says Elizabeth.

Elizabeth found these times of service meaningful, both for the work done and the time to expand her own social group.  She says, “I got to have fun with the people who were there as we painted and chopped firewood, and also the log splitter was fun to work. The most significant thing about the trip for me was that most of the other students were not my close friends, so I got to know everyone a lot better as we stayed up late talking each night.”

Elizabeth’s interest in the class originated in another service experience that connected her faith with ideas of racial reconciliation and community. Last summer, she took a trip to California with Youth Venture (Menno Mission Network) to set up a camp for children, all of whom were Asian.

“We had discussions about race—what exactly is race, how do we define our identities, and how can we get along better,” she says.

Although Elizabeth had thought about the concept of race relations before, she found that these trips provided new perspectives.  Her experiences in Youth Venture and  J-term have changed the way she thinks about her daily life.

“All of my life I’ve been surrounded by people who look like me, so this was different, and I liked it.  I really think diversity in culture and opinions is what makes a place special, so it’s a good thing to have.  I remember when I was here in 6th grade, my class felt mostly white.  I like it now that it feels like we have more diversity, and it’s fun to see a change like that occur.”