Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Good Neighbors Retreat, a weekend like no other

By Maria Jose Garcia
Vicariate Consultant, Ministry with Youth Office

My name is Maria Jose Garcia.  I am a Consultant for the Ministry with Youth Office in the Diocese of San Bernardino.  I am a 28-year-old Hispanic, Catholic, married woman and I would like to share with you an inspiring story.

I got to my office one special day and I noticed that I had received an invitation to participate at a retreat called: “Good Neighbors”, which was going to take place at a resort in La Quinta.  I got excited right from the start.  The invitation said that it was going to be a time to reflect and share on the current violence among young Hispanics and African-Americans, and to work towards healing and understanding between both cultures.

Coming from my work experience, where I have worked with teens and young adults who have faced the criminal justice system because of these issues and in the worst cases, attended Juvenile Hall… I immediately rushed to finish all of my pending projects and cleared my work schedule so that I could leave for a few days and head my way to La Quinta.    

On the first day, I was introduced to my roommate.  I was able to spend the entire retreat with a sweet, young, African-American woman.  We clicked immediately.  In fact, we were asked to participate in an activity before everybody’s time to set up in their rooms.  We took the activity very serious and together worked it out.  During this time, I got to know a little more about my roommate and noticed that we were very much alike.

During dinner, we were able to share more about each other.  I was thrilled to witness the diversity among us and what a good participation there was.  There were people from both gender groups, both ethnic groups – Hispanics and African-Americans, people from different faith backgrounds, and also different types of work expertise…However, we all had something in common, and that was that we all worked with youth in some way and that we were all people of faith seeking healing and peace among both cultures.

During the whole retreat experience, there were many interesting and educational talks.   There was a lot of time to share and learn from each other and also connect with each other.  I believe that this experience helped us open our eyes to a new reality, a new way of understanding and building relationships with our brothers and sisters.  Culturally speaking, there were countless things that we did not know about each other and yet we were able to share and learn.

It was also important that we all found a common ground to start: awareness and education.   It was said that we need to know were we are all coming from to know where we all are going.  Knowing about our history and how African-Americans and Hispanics have helped shape the current values and views of our nation to the point of shaping and influencing the American consciousnesses – freedom, respect and equality; we are all aware of the need for collaborative work between both cultures to better these values and principals.   

The Good Neighbors Retreat helped us realize our common and shared history but also challenged us to empower our nation to find perfection.  We can start out simple in our communities, work places, and social environment.  We all believe that through education, healing, faith sharing and most importantly making connections, this dream can be achieved.

I am grateful for this experience and for the people who made it possible, especially Dr. Daniel E. Walker, who has a passion for bringing peace and healing among both cultures.  He is a great example of true commitment, and serves as a model for all of us of what can be done.

If we really want to do something greater, we really need to fight for it now, and also remind ourselves that in order to achieve such a goal we need to start with ourselves, having a true and honest understanding that we are here to love and protect our brothers and sisters…. without judging. Needless to say, we need to be a Good Neighbor to one another.

Good Neighbors Retreat: A project of the BLU Educational Foundation and Reach Out West End, the endeavor is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s historic Racial Healing Initiative - Inland Empire Organizations Awarded Historic American Healing Grant from W.K. Kellogg Foundation.  Project Seeks Pastors to Work on Latino and African American Unity.

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