January 26th, 2017: Poverty

Click here to read about Day 6 on the reservation and the connections our students are making to their lives back home...
Our Final Day in Browning
The inevitable final day finally arrived. We all arose with the eagerness to make a lasting final impression on our students. After having some of Mr. Parisi’s homemade breakfast combination of sausage, egg, cheese, and bread all mushed together, we headed to the De LaSalle Blackfeet School for the last time. This morning drive into town was different than the other drives since we were taking in the incredible view of the town of Browning in the morning for the last time. Today was special because the school has Mass every Thursday for everyone to attend. It was inspiring to see all the students come together and pray for their school and for one another. Throughout the day, I made sure to give each of my kids the individual attention that they deserve. I went into today having the goal to make the best lasting impression that I could possibly make. The most impactful interaction I had today was with one of my favorites, Colden. For the first time all week, I had witnessed him wanting to do work instead of reluctantly trudging through it. It was a sight that I never saw coming on Monday, but I’m glad I did. Seeing him grow over the past few days is something I hope I never forget. When the end of the day came around, saying goodbye was bittersweet. The relationships I had formed with these kids were so strong that, once dismissal had rolled around, I didn’t want the kids to leave. During the goodbyes, I was taken aback when one student, Shania, slipped a note into my hand telling me not to open it until I get home. That one moment made me realize how much of an impact I had on these amazing kids. I will never forget this immersion experience and I couldn’t be happier for taking advantage of this opportunity. ~Zack
The End

After the end of the school day, once all of the pictures had been taken and all of the dust had settled, we helped the 8th graders set up for the fundraiser bingo that they were hosting. Once that was set up, we had a quick dinner at Subway (which was just about the only familiar business in Browning). Then we headed into the Little Flower Parish’s side chapel for the final prayer service and discussion of our trip. We started with the final journaling session, in which we discussed some of the most challenging topics yet. First, we discussed the flaws and strengths demonstrated by the reservation and its community. Next, we extended that discussion to ourselves, a culmination of the self-discovery aspect of the trip. The final part of the conversation was related to the nature of poverty, both on the Blackfeet reservation and in the world. These discussions were all fascinating, deeply personal, and honestly some of the best conversations that I have ever had in a small group. To respect the confidentiality of the small group and its members, I won’t publish them here. I will, however, talk about one of the things we discussed that affected me the most. In Father Ed’s fantastic homily on Sunday, when our trip began, he referred to the first reading about the Israelites as the “people in darkness” who have “seen a great light” and the Gospel about the calling of the Apostles. He talked about all of the darkness facing the Blackfeet community, but how even a small group of people had the potential to be a light for them and push back the darkness, even if it was just for a short while. Our hope is that as a group, our light was able to push back some of the darkness that the kids at De La Salle Blackfeet School, and by extension the entire reservation, faces on a daily basis. If we were able to spread our light, whether to the kids that we formed relationships with or just an example for future immersion groups to follow, then maybe, just maybe, there will come a day when the Blackfeet can celebrate and spread their great and proud culture without all of the darkness of addiction, school dropouts, and poverty.

During our conversation, we extended the talk about our strengths and weaknesses and light and darkness into a physical symbol for a prayer service. Each of us had ashes placed in our left hand to remind us of our flaws, our mortality, and our imperfection. It reminded me of a physical version of the version of the penitential act in which we acknowledge our “most grievous fault” to the community, but ask them to pray for us. In this case, the ashes humbled us all and forced us to acknowledge that none of us is perfect, and neither was the community that we had built over the trip. Next, we placed oil in our right hands to symbolize our charisms and strengths, the God-given talents that shape who we are and how we affect the world. We held hands with one another, as a physical reminder of the nature of our group and of Catholicism in general: we use our talents to support and cover each other’s flaws, forming a circle of mixed oil and ashes. As a community, it may be messy, but it gets the job done and brings us close to one another in a unified circle. Extending the metaphor, we washed the hands of our classroom partners, resembling the washing of feet on Holy Thursday, but in a much more personal setting. Then we received candles, representing our personal lights that are not to be hidden but be seen by the world, lights that hopefully made some miniscule difference against the darkness facing the Blackfeet. To close the service, we got special beaded crosses and exchanged the sign of peace among the entire group. The community that resulted from this trip is something very unique and personal: we have formed a family of sorts, ready to help one another through our own challenges and struggles, because as we found out on this trip, bearing our burdens together as a group makes the load so much lighter.

While our community is amazing and invigorating, we know that the most difficult challenge is what’s ahead: how this group will stand up and hold together once we have reentered our normal lives, schedules, and social circles. This group has the potential to make huge positive changes in the Calvert Hall community, and if anyone can stick together through the tough transition from Browning, Montana to Baltimore, Maryland, it’s this group. We will be returning to our families late Friday night, and to a mountain of homework on Monday. Do me a favor, and if you’re reading this blog, say a quick prayer for us, for the Blackfeet that we have learned so much about, and for the difficult but bright future that both groups face.