First-person perspective: student reflects on class trip to Chicago

Photo courtesy of Jada Grice

Jada Grice

jagrice@ursinus.edu

Students from Rev. Charles Rice’s African American Religious Experience class spent their spring break in Chicago, exploring the role of churches as social, cultural and political institutions in the city’s African American community. Between 1910 and 1970, around six million African Americans migrated from the south to cities like Chicago, and the students sought to experience firsthand how this Great Migration continues to affect the community today. Over six days, the students visited churches, community organizations and landmarks, and even made time for some deep dish pizza. Jada Grice ’19 shares her reflection on the trip.

The trip to Chicago started off with my first time ever on an airplane. I was so excited to get to Chicago that I didn’t anticipate the anxiety about the flight. As soon as we started to lift-off I had to grab the hand of a classmate in order to endure the turbulence. The five students who boarded the plane, Professor Rice (Rev), and Dean Williams (Terrence) rented vans and met up with Ursinus alumna Chanelle Houston.

Then, we were off to the suburbs of Elmhurst to the Springhill Suites. When we finally got to the hotel we were met by another student who had taken a separate plane. After a couple of hours the rest of the students from our class arrived and we were able to rest up before a deep dish pizza dinner and itinerary check. Afterwards we rested and then boarded the hotel shuttle to downtown Elmhurst where we discovered a small treasure, an ice cream shop named Kilwin’s. We sampled and scooped various flavors from Praline Butter Pecan to Banana Pie. This is the first time the group was out together and we cemented a familial bond that first night.

The next morning we were up early, and after having a hearty hotel breakfast we ventured to the Lawndale community in order to attend a worship service at the Lawndale Christian Community Church. We were greeted by a warm and loving church and were able to hear the words of the church’s senior pastor, Rev. Dr. Wayne Gordon. Wayne Gordon is a white man who moved to the Lawndale Community in order to live among his parishioners.

Lawndale is one of the poorest and most violence-stricken neighborhoods in Chicago, but the Pastor made the move because he felt the calling towards the marginalized black community. Lawndale Christian Community Church has health centers equipped with a healthy café, exercise rooms, and doctor offices for the community of Lawndale. We were able to help the church celebrate their 40th anniversary and heard Gordon, or “Coach,” as everyone refers to him, speak on love; the love of the community and for others. There is a Bible verse, 1 Corinthians 13:13 which says, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” We learned through that sermon that there is no greater principle than love and that there is no greater action than love.

We scooped up some anniversary cake and made our way expeditiously to Trinity United Church of Christ in the Washington Heights section of Chicago’s south side where Pastor Otis Moss presides. There was a choir which contained hundreds of people and Pastor Moss spoke on self-love. Trinity United Church of Christ was not as involved in their community as the Lawndale Church – they seemed to be focused more internally.

Later in the week we got the opportunity to meet and talk with Pastor Wayne Gordon. I told him that I was reading his book “Real Hope in Chicago” highlighting the community members he has mentored and helped. When he asked me to read the title of the first chapter which was “Jojo: Release the Oppressed” and proceeded to tell me Jojo was actually Pastor Joe from the church, I squealed. It was like meeting your favorite character from a book. Coach signed the book for me.

We toured museums such as the History Museum of Chicago and the Dusable Museum for African American History, but my favorite part of the trip was one morning when I was typing away at the hotel computers in the lower lobby and a hotel resident approached my friend and me. He was an African American male from the community named Ali. He talked with us about his entire life and Chicago. I could tell Ali had been holding onto his story for quite some time and needed someone to talk with, so we let him talk about everything he needed to. This encounter was especially important because we had yet to talk to community members outside of the churches. His raw perspective from having been a shooter, drug dealer, and stealer was intriguing and mind opening. This helped show me that one has to be in close proximity with the marginalized and impoverished if they are going to begin to work against their oppression.

It was an amazing six-day educational seminar with my classmates. We laughed, screamed, meditated, ran, functioned, took photographs of everything – sometimes without a care and at other times with the spirit of Him and social justice. I would not have wanted to spend my spring break with another group of people. This past week I learned what Maya Angelou meant when she said life loves the liver of it. We lived up every inch of Heaven and Earth that week!