Friday, March 6, 2020

Day Seven: In shaa Allah

Hi guys! 

As we conclude our trip, Friday was full of bitter-sweet moments. As we started the day at Earthworks, we spent the morning with the farm-manager, Patrick, solidifying our information on food justice, sovereignty, and security. We learned the importance of supporting local farms, having food safe for consumer and producer, being affordable and accessible for all walks of life and advocating for policymakers to protect the nature of our food systems. 

We finished our time at Earthworks from how we started, by breaking bread one last time with our community members in the soup kitchen and sifting compost. After saying some hard goodbyes, we left with two important messages: live everyday like it is your last and always be grateful for what and who we have in our lives. 

Friday night, our last hurrah together, we humbled ourselves at the American Muslim Society in Dearborn, Michigan. The president of the mosque, Mosad, welcomed us with open arms into the lovely worship center. As tradition goes, we took off our shoes as we entered and gathered ourselves into their prayer space. The room could have held over 300 people, spanning over three rooms. One room was specific to males and another designated for females. 

Fridays are considered the “holy day” where all males are required to come to the mosque at five specific points during the day to pray. The first prayer, sunrise prayer, starts at 6:00 AM and the last one ends at 7:55 PM marking the nighttime prayer. We had the opportunity to witness their sunset prayer, which occurred at 6:30 PM. All the men gathered together, including children, at the “call to prayer”. Call to prayer, Adhan, was a beautiful hymn and Arabic message to call all Muslims to the mosque for prayer. Once everyone came together, the Imam (the leader of prayer), led the congregation. The men went from standing, to kneeling and to laying in the prostration (head to the floor) back and forth for over 10 minutes as the imam led his sermon in Arabic. This was an extremely beautiful opportunity to witness. What truly moved me, was being in the back of the prayer space (guests are asked to sit in the back observing) and as the men made their way in, they either smiled or waved, acknowledging our presence. I loved the way the Muslim members made us feel more than welcomed in their place of worship. 

After observing a lovely sermon, we were brought into another room and engulfed in the smell of Middle Eastern spices and greeted with warm smiles of three guests, two male Muslim doctors (one MD and one cancer researcher) and one female engineer Muslim (married to the MD). We were served a traditional Muslim meal of rice, chicken, salad, hummus, pita and potatoes and given the best baklava in Dearborn. Amongst dinner, the guests described their faith, including the five pillars of Islam and offered us the opportunity to ask as many questions as we desired. The female engineer had touched our hearts in a special way though. She came in her head-scarf, hajib, and was dressed in a long satin white dress to the floor with embroidered flowers on the long-sleeves. She had an elegance to the way she talked about her experience becoming an industrial engineer and how proud she was to be an American. Born and raised in Detroit, but family had roots in Yemen, she also talked about her struggles as a Muslim but more significantly as a Muslim woman. Growing up, herself and her family were subjected to harassment and discrimination in Detroit. She describes being in second grade and being told to present to her entire school on her faith and why she chooses to practice Islam. When she got older, the shame worsened often being spit on, chucked rocks at and condemned for her faith. She thought this would all be left behind after receiving her degree at the University of Michigan, but when she started her career at General Motors, she was faced with multiple more types of harassment. Being specifically proficient in her career, one of the only women in charge of all eight SUV compact cars and their design at GM, she worked hard, almost 12-18 hours a day. But that did not stop people in her workforce from sexual scrutinizing her for her choice of dress, desire to pray five times a day or even not being able to practice “typical” society norms such as shaking hands. Because of this, she was often denied her raise or job promotions simply because “she was different”. 

Our female Muslim sister (Muslims refer to one another by brother or sister) is continuously subjected to cultural discrimination as well as female oppression that one would think would have set her back, but actually has only sprung her forward. She now takes her time to educate those who do not have the knowledge on Islam and the Muslim culture. She has made serious strides in the workforce to address women rights as well as rights for Muslims. Her courage and vulnerability today are a reason she is a role model for our students on our ABST as well as all women. I specifically admired her devoted nature to her religion and being so passionate about being a Muslim. The world needs more of her in our lives. 

The last man to talk to us, is a doctor at University of Michigan Cancer Institute who has been a part of many opportunities of service and mentorship in the Detroit Metropolitan area. This man spoke from his heart about the love he has for every human being in his path and his love for life alone. He came to the states also from Yemen and settled surprisingly in Erie, PA after being treated at Shriners Children’s Hospital for a chronic condition in his youth. It was a God moment learning one of our accompaniers had even been a part of his recovery during his time at Shriners. He also talked about how our faith is very similar to the faith of Islam. We discussed about the similarities and differences and most of us were surprised by the vast amount of similarities rather than the differences. He too, eloquently shared with us his vulnerabilities and how he chooses to live his life in peace.

In all, the experiences we had today at the mosque had touched the lives of many of the students on our ABST. Speaking for myself, I known their love for all walks of life was inspiring to my own faith and has encouraged me to be more devout. More importantly though, this population truly is a peaceful, giving and compassionate group who wants nothing more than to do good in the world. Muslims are just as much of people as we are and we have incorporated it in the missions in our lives, to do everything we can to advocate for their beautiful faith. 

I think as a conclusion of our trip, we can say our experiences with the mosque have solidified the hope we have in humanity. As we are packing up tonight, we are realizing we truly are leaving a piece of our hearts in Detroit. But we know that space in our hearts are now only open to the moments that set our souls on fire and the gift of love that we have experienced here in Detroit, Michigan. 

In shaa Allah (God Willing), 

Shukran (Thank you), 

Alesha D. Griffo  (Group Leader) – Sophomore Physician Assistant and Psychology Major 

Day Six: Alumni Day! (late post)

Hey all!

We started out Thursday with another amazing morning at Earthworks. We spent the morning working in the hoop house. While it was cold outside, due to the hoop house being warmed by the sun, it was quite toasty inside. However, our energy was high and we were ready to go. A lot of the work we did was based around cultivating. Some people were planting, others were working with the compost, and others were prepping the soil for planting. Even though we only were able to spend the morning at Earthworks, we did an amazing job working with the time that we had. 

Once we left Earthworks, we all got dressed up and drove over to Troy, Michigan to meet with Joe Bione. Joe was a graduate from Gannon University in 1973 and then again with his masters degree in 1975. Joe is now the President for a company called Whitehall. They work with struggling businesses to help put them back on the right track. We also got to talk to Joe about the Detroit area. We learned about how Detroit went from a booming city of 3 million people to a city that only has 700,000 people now. Downtown Detroit is 90% black, while the suburbs are 90% white. However, he also said that there is not a strong Michigan without a strong Detroit. There has been a lot done to help Detroit and we are all excited to see Detroit grow even more. Mr. Bione also talked about his experiences at Gannon. We all agreed that we embrace the hug of Gannon. They make sure to make you feel comfortable and safe but also to push you out of your comfort level and to really learn about the world. 

We then had an amazing dinner at Granite City with other alumni. This was a great time for us to learn about some amazing people that have come through out university and to hear their stories. We want to thank Joe and all the other amazing alumni who came and were gracious to give us their time. Also, another thanks to Tony DiPasqua for setting up such an amazing event. 

All the best, 
Joshua Staley (Group Leader), sophomore Political Science major

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Day Five: Miracles Still Happen

“All the efforts of excellence are very difficult. Don’t ever stop fighting for your dreams.”
--John, On the Rise Bakery
“The Time is Now” –The Heidelberg Project
What's bigger? Chloe and Sanibel's face or the Cinnamon Rolls?

We rolled out of Love Rising Lutheran Church at 9:00 am and headed to breakfast at On the Rise Bakery. This bakery was begun by the Capuchin Friars, the religious affiliation was prominent throughout. The men who work here were all very kind men and amazing bakers. The food was absolutely scrumptious! On the Rise is known for being a transition for those who were recently incarcerated, helping them move back into society. This is achieved through them working at the bakery and learning important skills. It was such an experience to see the joy these men had despite their past struggles. Our group stayed there for nearly an hour enjoying each others’ presence and the peaceful atmosphere that had been created in this beautiful place. 
Here we are outside On the Rise

After On the Rise we headed to the Detroit Historical Museum. This place showcased all the amazing things that have occurred here in Detroit whether they were positive or not. We were surprised to see how much history there really is in Detroit. Seeing it today the temptation is to only see a delipidated city that not much comes from; however, it was once thriving. Full of life and innovations. Many incidents regarding civil liberties occurred within the boundaries of Detroit, from the Underground Railroad to the Race Riots of 1967. Seeing such vibrant exhibits depicting these events brought them into a clearer perspective that cannot be obtained merely through reading about them.

Even though it was hot, we loved the Conservatory!

In a city full of Urban Farms there is also a beautiful Conservatory on Bell Isle full of plants from all over the world. The variety of fruit trees, cacti, flowers, and palm trees displayed the wonderous works of God in nature and the beauty of His creation. This place was a lovely way to take a break from the serious nature of both the Museum and the Heidelberg Project (where we headed next).
"I wish I could have a picture of them in front of the Detroit skyline." -Aly as we drive across the bridge

The sun was bright, but our energy was brighter

The short 45 minutes that we spent exploring the Heidelberg Project were some of the most powerful of the day if not the week so far. This began in 1988 as a way to improve the neighborhood from the inside through artistic expression. The mastermind behind this marvel was Tyree Guyton. Heidelberg was his childhood home that fell to disrepair during Mr. Guyton’s absence and upon return he took his Grandfather’s advice to make a difference using a paintbrush instead of a weapon, which was the trend at the time. 
There were three motifs throughout all of Heidelberg; polka dots, clocks, and shoes. The polka dots have a three-fold meaning; the circle of life, how all things in life are connected, and his grandfather’s love of jellybeans. All the clocks scattered about remind us that the time for change is now. These were added after the 2013 arson attack on the project. Damages caused by these violent acts inspired Guyton to once again pick up a paintbrush rather than a weapon. This addition worked to emphasize the importance of taking advantage of the time we have to make change. Finally, there were shoes scattered throughout the neighborhood, representing the souls of those who died through violence.

We capped off a fantastic day at the humbling Heidelberg Project

All in all, we had an impactful day of exploring this resilient city full of history and hope. One of our accompaniers mentioned how powerful the Heidelberg Project was despite not fully understanding it. She followed this with “maybe it’s not for me to understand.” This was very powerful and representative of our whole trip because we are not yet meant to fully understand what we are doing or how we are being impacted. Each of us may be setting the foundation for a Miracle in the future after all “Miracles still happen”.

God bless, 
            Anna Graham, Freshman Early Childhood Education Major 
            Sanibel Stravinsky, Freshman, Nursing Major

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Day Four: "A Change is Gonna Come"

Every great adventure starts with a monumental foundation. Today, ours started with the car ride to Earthworks. As we were listening to the radio, the quintessential sound of the piano in Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” took over the car in a group-led car concert. Doug told us the story of how the song came to be— 8 months in the making, the song started when Steve Perry asked his father for gas money to travel back home, but instead received a check for $3,000 with the simple memo - “don’t stop believing.” Journey’s story of resilience rings true in relation to the struggles Detroit also faces and how the community is overcoming it.
Josh, Alesha, Sidney, and Aidan working on compost at the hoop house

Once we got to Earthworks, we met with Patrick, Wendy, Tyler, and Darryld. As we were recounting our previous night, Patrick, the farming manager, mentioned that the ice cream place we went to last night was located in the wealthier suburb of Grosse Pointe. Historically, Grosse Pointe is known for having houses with covenants in their housing deeds that forbid blacks, Jews, or Catholics from buying those houses. While not legally binding anymore, this is one of the examples of racial injustice that continues to prevail in Detroit. 
Here is the group seeding
After our discussion, we started the day’s work. In the morning, we went to the Gleaner’s composting area. Here we used giant sifters, shovels, and wheelbarrows to separate bigger debris from the finer compost. Compost is made of decomposing food scraps made of mostly pre-consumed vegetable scraps along with leaves, grass, and wood chips. We learned that cooked food and animal products can’t be used in compost because it attracts rats. Compost is used as a soil amendment but above 20% it can be harmful to the soil as a whole. 
Chloe and Alesha seeding

While we were working, we struck up a conversation with Darryld. He has been volunteering at Earthworks since its start in 1997. He then took a full-time position as Risk Management Officer in 2010. He runs the bike shop at Earthworks, where he does repairs bicycles every Wednesday. 
Doug and Ellen "singing" in the studio

After a morning full of shoveling compost, we went to lunch at the soup kitchen located at Earthworks. During lunch, we all sat with community members and were able to talk with them about their experiences living in Detroit.

With a full stomach, we then went to the greenhouse with Patrick and Tyler. In the greenhouse we were taught how to properly plant seedling by Patrick. The seedlings we planted would then be used for Keep Growing Detroit, which gives plants to those who want to have gardens in Detroit. The seedlings we planted included parsley, eggplant, and cayenne pepper. While the rest of the group planted seedlings, three of us sifted soil and made soil blocks for seeding.
Outside the Motown Museum
After planting and making soul blocks for a few hours, we left Earthworks to travel to the Motown Museum. The Motown Museum was the original birthplace of Motown Records, created by Berry Gordy. Some of the recording artists include the Jackson Five, the Supremes, Marvin Gay, Stevie Wonder, and many more. Berry Gordy was a trailblazer in the community as far as racial integration and musical creativity. Gordy brought Detroit together in a way that changed America.
            “Motown was about music for all people, white and black, blue and green, cops and robbers. I was reluctant to have our music alienate anyone.” -Berry Gordy   

Here is the group in the world famous "Studio A". So many of the most famous Motown  artists recored in this studio
The goal of Motown was to create an all-inclusive group that inspired others with their messages of shared love and heartache. It was a beautiful reminder of the flourishing history that took place in Detroit and the promising possibilities it still holds. As we ended the night with reflection, we listened to the song “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cook. The hopeful message that change is going to come even in the midst of troublesome situations is something that resonated with all of us. The point of the Detroit trip is to learn about racial inequality and urban farming, and although it can be easy to be weighed down by the issues we experience, it is important to remember that tough times won’t last forever.

-       Ellen Madden, Sophomore Biology Major

-       Chloe Forbes, Junior Journalism Major

Monday, March 2, 2020

Day Three: Pruning, Seeding, and Composting Oh My!

Hello Everyone!

The day began early in the morning as we all prepared for our first day at Earthworks! Adorned with work boots and multiple layers to combat the cold, we ventured off for our day at the farm. Upon arrival, we were greeted by the welcoming face of a man named Tyler who led us into the building. Once inside we met Wendy, who is the coordinator and head of marketing at Earthworks. Wendy and Tyler then proceeded to teach us some information about Earthworks and about themselves; such as how they entered into the business of urban farming and the logistics of how they run the business. Soon after, we were given a tour of the three main regions of the Earthworks urban farm.
These are some transplants that Earthworks grows for community partners
First, Wendy directed our attention to the processing shed where workers and volunteers thoroughly clean what was harvested from the farm. The wall of the shed had a large styled sign depicting the rules and methods of washing what was harvested. Adjacent to the processing shed was the bike repair area where Earthworks does free bike repairs for community members.

 Afterward, Wendy walked with us to the greenhouse on the Earthworks property. Once inside, Wendy talked about the use of the greenhouse as a center for the growth of newly planted saplings. Earthworks is responsible for doing 40% of the germination and transplanting of seeds in the city of Detroit. Next, we moved to a structure similar to the greenhouse called the hoophouse. The hoophouse is run via solar energy rather than natural gas like the greenhouse. Therefore, the hoophouse is more suitable for growing plants that are less temperature-dependent. In addition, collected rainwater is stored in large containment barrels to be used for their drip irrigation systems. The last region was Gleaner’s field, where we saw an area designated for field production and composting. 
Doug in his natural habitat

Alesha and her composting!!!

After our tour, we went to lunch in the Capuchin soup kitchen located within the Earthworks community. Earthworks donates 90% of its harvested products to the soup kitchen. While there, we sat among community members and shared a filling meal, preparing us for a busy afternoon. Supplied with work gloves and pruning shears, we headed out into the Earthworks orchard to learn from the farm manager Patrick. He taught us the interesting methods of pruning the apple and pear trees found within the orchard. Without hesitation, we began clearing away excess branches from the trees stimulating further future growth. 
Here is Patrick teaching us how to prune some of the trees in the orchard

Patrick made an excellent observation while teaching our group about pruning the fruit trees. He stated that he really was not teaching us about how to prune trees. Rather, he was teaching us about life. He said that similar to the complexity of the tree branches, the complexity of our lives can be made simpler by clearing away what is unnecessary and focusing upon the central framework that gives our lives meaning. As we pruned more and more trees, Tyler told the entire group interesting riddles which brought us closer to him as well as each other. He made a point of making us feel welcome and was able to keep smiles on our faces as we worked in the orchard. 
Nothing beats pruning trees in Detroit!

Overall, the day's experience was mentally and physically stimulating as we delved into the complex world of urban farming and community building in Detroit. One of the major lessons we took from today is that change in the world does not have to be a large endeavor, rather small contributions can make a major difference. 


-Sara Greb, Sophomore Physician Assistant Major 
-Chloe Adiutori, Freshman Pharmacy Major

Day Two: Sacred Heart Church and a Conversation with Phil Jones!!

What a day!  It is only our second day here in Detroit, and we are already experiencing and learning so much!  We started out our day with going to Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.  Each of us had a different experience.  For some of us, going to a Catholic Mass was new in itself but for some of us it was the norm.
One big takeaway from mass today was the sense of community and welcoming that the members portrayed. There was shaking of hands, hugging, solidarity and all-around kindness that exuberated within the entire church. There was also a lot of singing in praise and worship that was very jovial and beautiful.
Although the mass was different from what a lot of the members had experienced, everyone found a sense of the beauty that was invested by the congregation in their worship. Another sign of the overall welcoming experience was when they invited us into the sanctuary to pray over some individuals who were dealing with different struggles whether it be from sickness or future travels. While in the sanctuary, we exchanged with the priests and the congregation a sign of peace.
We also noticed they were a lot of carvings and paintings across the were mainly made up of “Black Jesus” which for some is the norm but can be different for people who are not used to that. The population was mainly comprised of black people but there was a sense of inclusivity where everyone from all different race and backgrounds was cordially welcomed and loved.
We returned to the Detroit Urban Retreat Center where we are currently staying and had a chance to reflect on the day. One topic that was brought up was the importance of not using labels.  If we call it a “Black Church”, others may not feel welcome. However, we found that they welcomed all of us complete strangers as family.  They were very inclusive.
After a quick lunch, we set out to meet Phil Jones. Phil Jones is a Detroit resident who also operates as a chef. He started the City Food Community Concepts in Detroit and is also a member of the Detroit Food Policy Council.
He welcomed us into his house with open arms and shared numerous and insightful information on the work that he does around the community. We learned that he started cooking at an early age while selling meat pies on the beaches of St. Croix at the age of 6. Initially he wanted to be a computer lawyer but down the road he found his passion for cooking overweighed this desire.
He has been cooking in Detroit for over 50 years. He started his own urban farm from which he harvested for his cooking. He’s works purpose is “Make food not waste.” During our conversation he mentioned some of the problems within the food and farming industry such as:
·      GMO seeds taking over non-GMO seeds
·      Large agriculture ruining farming businesses
·      Big businesses profiting over selling more unhealthy foods rather than providing access to healthier options.
Phil Jones mentioned that a lot of his work is mainly geared towards fighting racial injustices within the community. We learned that as of a couple of years ago, there are no black owned grocery stores within the city of Detroit which is 83% black. We found this astonishing and majority of his work is not only geared towards fighting racial injustices within the city but providing opportunities for black Americans within the city. 

One big takeaway for us about racial justice was a quote we took from him that stated, “Inside of a system that doesn’t work for me I’m sure it doesn’t work for you.” We are incredibly thankful of Phil Jones to take time out of his busy day to meet with us! Day two was a big success and with our new understanding of urban farming we are looking forward to our first day at EarthWorks tomorrow!

            -Aidan Kerlin, Freshman Philosophy Major 
            -Sydney Oyatta, Senior Computer Science Major

Saturday, February 29, 2020

First Day in Detroit!!!

Hey friends and family of our Detroit travelers!

We left snowy Erie at 10 AM and finally made it to the Detroit Urban Retreat Center safely at 4 PM!

Before arriving at the retreat center we had stopped at Detroit's Eastern market, enjoying the local farmers and some "schawarma" (a greek grilled meat wrap).

We settled into the retreat center and made two journey's to grocery stores, Food Pride and Whole Foods. The purpose of this activity was to experience the two different atmospheres and see the difference in food quality and price.

After the two shopping experiences, we cooked a spaghetti dinner and had a reflection of our first impressions of Detroit!

We are so grateful for your prayers to get us here, please continue to keep us in our thoughts and check back here tomorrow for another update.

Best your leaders,

Josh and Alesha