Why Not?: A Journey of Autonomy by Omiah Mitchell
These past two years have been unlike anything I have ever experienced before. My mind would have never been able to conceive what has occurred in this world during these past two years. At first it was wonderful to rest and just be still. Then, life quickly became a mundane redundant routine. Wake up. Shower. Log in to zoom. Log off. Sleep. Repeat.
I began asking myself, “Is this really what life is going to be like?” “Is this all there is?” These supposed formative years were condensed into something that I was neither ready nor prepared for. This led me to sit down and look inward. I came to the realization that I had no idea who I was or what I wanted to be outside of the title of “student”. I was flying through life by the seat of my pants with no clue or plan of what was going to come next. All the alone time in my dorm during COVID truly made me reflect on all aspects of my life. Most decisions I have made have been for others, not for myself. I needed to figure out who I was outside of the margins of “student”. Being confined to such a small space for so long opened my eyes to how much I haven’t done and the myriad of things I have yet to see. I promised myself after graduating undergrad that the next big decision I made would be for me and no one else.
A few weeks later, I applied for MTCC AmeriCorps. To be honest when I applied I was just thinking “why not?” I had no thoughts of what I would do or how I would react if I got the position. So upon hearing that I got the service position, I had no clue what to say or who to tell first. How does one explain to their family that has been in the same state for generations that you are going to move across the country for a year to do community service?
It took me a while to admit to myself that this was something that I wanted to do and that it was okay to be scared and nervous about this huge change. I dissected my decision constantly. Going back and forth on what I wanted to do. Until I realized that this was the perfect fit. No matter where I was in life I have somehow found myself serving others in some capacity. I also felt a huge desire to expand my horizons and see a part of the country that is not within my own little world. So I was back to asking myself “why not?” So, I went for it.
The journey from my North Carolina town into the heart of the States was something I will never forget. On the road, while in conversation with a fellow traveler who had asked me where I was off to. I told him Eastern Montana. He looked me dead in my eyes and replied, “That’s the real Montana. That’s the true Montana. There is nothing like that in all the world right there.” His words had struck something in me. There was a sincerity in his voice that I will never forget when he said this. I was moved. I also had no idea what he meant at the time, but I was anticipating finding out.
During my short time residing in Eastern Montana , I began to see just how much community means to folks out here. I have never seen a town so intentionally involved in one another’s lives. People down south are nice, but people in Montana are kind. There is a difference. The level of willful care and love people have for one another was truly beautiful to watch (and eventually experience). I was excited to be a part of this tight knit community.
Being fully immersed in a community that has known each other for a really long time is difficult. I felt and often still feel very out of place both at my site and around town. Finding my place and understanding where I fit and where exactly my services are needed are a few things I am still trying to figure out right now. I have found that jumping right into the thick of it was the best method.
After a few weeks I noticed myself lagging and slowing down. The motivation and excitement I held were slowly depleting. There isn’t a lot of tangible paperwork to report for my service within the Host Site. I began to feel like what I was doing was not effective or helping anyone. There were times where my students were good, and did not need much of my help in certain areas as anticipated. I felt kind of useless in these moments.
Finding my footing was very difficult but I learned that I needed to lean into talking with my students and opening up to them more. Let down the drawbridge and build enough trust both ways so that they felt comfortable enough to journey across it and show me their world. Even if it was only a peek. Earning a person’s trust is not easy in the slightest. It takes time and consistency. I am so grateful I went with “why not?” instead of “why?”
Slowly I found myself and this office space becoming a safe space for my students. They would come in at times other than their scheduled 1:1 sessions to talk about their day or even what they did over the weekend. They would want to talk about next steps after leaving DCC and make career plans to help them prepare. Seeing this trust and excitement from my students lit up my view on service as well as the impact I am making thus far. One thing I am learning one day at a time is that not all work is tangible and sometimes in order to see the results you were originally hoping for, you have to look a little deeper and a little harder at the changes within the people around you. In the words of the queen of afro-futurism, Octavia Butler, “All that you touch you change. All that you change changes you”.