I went this year thinking it would be my last. I didn’t expect much from the weekend. I went to put closure on something into which for ten years I had invested myself. It had felt as though interest at University Church had waned; it was time for me to find something more local to invest myself; and it was also time for University Church to find a more “local” investment. I had organized enough adult classes, written enough bulletin announcements, and gotten up one-too-many times in Sunday services, explaining why we were once again going all the way to Georgia to the annual memorial service for those killed in Latin America by former students of the School of the Americas.

Wow…… my weekend was a surprise!

Through Pat Wilcoxen’s relationships at the Covenantal Community, members of that community, black and white, who knew the Vicente family, decided to go to Georgia. Like all who go, they went for a variety of reasons. Their common denominator was that they knew Virgilio Vicente, knew his story of familial loss, and wanted to honor him and his family members who had died in the Saq Ja massacre carried out by former students of the School of the Americas in Columbus, Ga.

One of these folks from the Covenantal Community, Bonnie Harrison, is faculty at Kennedy King College, where she is sponsor of the school’s Social Justice Committee. She invited members of that student group to travel with us. Several did. These young adults are the reason my trip did not go as expected.

The students who traveled with our group brought another part of Chicago’s South Side to Georgia — the police behavior — nothing new.  “We experience that in our neighborhoods.” The disregard of the local judge to who was innocent and who was not — “we expect that.”

The SOA Watch movement is made of mostly white folks. I expected the students of color traveling with us to “not connect” and to ask, “how is this related to my life in Woodlawn, or Englewood?” I didn’t expect much.

The opposite happened! They heard the stories of Latin America and saw themselves in them. They watched  “the movement” at work and seemed re-energized in their own work.

Returning to our motel from the jail house at 2 AM on the Monday of that November weekend, I came across a group of young adults who had traveled with our group, including the students from Kennedy King. They were hanging out, offered me a glass of wine, and I stayed to chat and ask my questions.

What would they be talking about at 2 AM? It was amazing: 1) how to bring home the energy they had just experienced to their campuses and communities,  2) how to use hip-hop to cross barriers and create movement for justice in Chicago, and  3) how to bring back to the SOA Watch a bigger group in November 2011!

I went not expecting much, one last go-around, but returned home re-awakened to the way in which this movement has evolved. It connects to the global with the local and vice versa. It helps me do, as Thich Nhat Hanh has suggested, “awaken from our illusions of separateness.”

Charlie Havens
Member of the Social Justice Committee