We were up bright and early today for our Practice Justice day. We stumbled to breakfast at 6:55 a.m., wearing our matching orange servant day t-shirts. Amazing to think that each day of the gathering, there were 11,000 wearing these matching orange t-shirts, practicing justice and serving the city.
The day began with worship, focused on what it means to do justice, and learning about why New Orleans is a place that still needs love and hope. Then onto a bus to drive to Akili Academy, a charter school in what they call a “Recovery District” in the city, which is all charter schools set up after Katrina to help replace schools that had been destroyed.
Akili is a series of trailers right now, waiting for the funding to build a permanent structure. They are a future K-8 school, building up one grade a year. So this fall, they are adding their first 5th grade class, and they needed to clean out one building that had been used for storage to set up classrooms for this new class of about 100 students.
So our project was to help work on the building to get it cleaned up and set up. We pulled hundreds of staples from the walls and put mini tennis balls on the feet of desks and chairs to help them slide around. We moved bookshelves and a giant desk from one building to another. We taped around bulletin boards and windows to prepare for paint crews to come in.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the work day is that by the time we got there, it was monsooning. A huge storm system off the gulf had settled over us, and it downpoured – seriously, SHEETS of rain – for hours and hours. We watched the small plots of land between school buildings fill up to flooded. There was a brief period of thunder and lightning that scared the pants off of us, and killed the power in all the buildings for about twenty minutes.
There is a certain sort of desperation that sets in when it’s been downpouring, and I’m not joking here. You start to feel anxious when you see the land out the window fill with water, and when you realize that you have no idea where the water will go. When we got back to our hotel, we watched as water gushed out of sewers and Pastor Miller even saw the water shoot manhole covers up and off.
But I think that the constant rain and scary flood watches and warnings helped us understand a little bit of what our brothers and sisters in New Orleans go through every hurricane season, and gave us new empathy for the horror of Katrina.
The dome tonight focused on peacemaking.
Jamie Nabozny spoke about bullying, and about how youth can take a stand and make a difference. Diane Latiker shared with us her own inspirational story about how she is promoting peace and nonviolence in her community by opening up her home as a gathering space for youth to keep them off the streets. Our keynote speaker tonight was Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee, who spoke to us about hope, and how God’s light is the hope in the world, and how we can live out God’s hope in the world.
The Dome ended with Rachel Kurtz singing a version of “Hallelujah,” complete with white-robed dancers and huge white balloons and cloth streamers being raised above our heads in the dome. Breathtakingly beautiful. Incredibly moving.
Since it WASN’T raining, we actually left our hotel for community life events after the Dome. Half of the group went to see Agape in concert, and the other half went to a dance down at a hotel on Canal Street.
Another very full, very wonderful day. Hard to believe the trip is half-over already!