[Last week we announced that our South Atlanta Youth Program is transitioning this month to the leadership of our partners in the South Atlanta neighborhood, FCS. This is a post from the director of the Youth Group, Michelle Witherspoon, reflecting on her time with REMERGE and the transition to FCS.]
I remember like it was yesterday coming into the community as a guest, the smell of the room, the new faces, and the intimidation I felt being in a room full of neighbors who were mostly homeless. I was welcomed well, but I had much to learn. The next days and months and years ruined me in the best way possible.
One of the roles I had in the community was leading a women’s group. It took some time, a great amount of curiosity, and some real life experimenting to see how God knit our lives together. As I look back, I celebrate the ways we held space for one another. We learned to love in the midst of our severe differences of homelessness, mental illness, privilege, race, family backgrounds and life experiences. We celebrated one another, prayed for one another, shared new and fun experiences together, and learned how to love God and one another. We joined our lives together, and God “showed up and showed out” as one neighbor would say.
The last several years in my role I have been facilitating community with the youth of my South Atlanta neighborhood. It has been a great honor to see yet again what is possible when loving God and loving neighbor is the heart of the community. I have witnessed friendship happening between children who live on opposites sides of the dividing lines of race and family backgrounds. We have celebrated together, shared meals together, faced our fears together, taken new experiences together, and have had a lot of fun together! Many of our South Atlanta Youth Group (SAYG) community members have taught me about resilience, and about taking chances again and again even in a world that continues to disregard and count them out. I have learned to question everything we do in a way that asks the question, “does this lead to more community or more separation?” I have learned to say no to toxic charity to those on the margins and say yes to more dignified ways of inviting people to give and participate. I have learned to take chances on people whether they “deserve it” or not!
I celebrate the incredible ways God has used Remerge to build a foundation of reconciliation in me. I am a different woman because of my Remerge friendships. I have tasted the fruit of community centered on joining lives together. I have known deep love for and from those who at first appear very different from me.
In many ways, the DNA of Remerge helped lead me see a beautiful new opportunity for our South Atlanta youth group, to be curious about how joining lives in this missional way could offer the good of the community. Often times organizations talk a good game of working together and collaborating for the common good, but rarely do I see organizations actually do it and display great examples of healthy, missional partnerships. I see some of the most beautiful work of community development and reconciliation happening as these two organizations – REMERGE and FCS – have agreed to put this youth community’s best interest in mind.
I’m really looking forward to seeing how the lessons and experiences that have shaped me thus far through Remerge can continue to inspire this next chapter of my work with FCS. The relationships and connections with Remerge will remain tied to my heart, and I look forward to the new experiences and friendships that blossom with FCS.