I’m going to try to catch up on the daily blog posts between now and the end of cycle 9, which runs from April 19th to May 11th. I fell behind as things had gotten quite busy with the latest info session and more people becoming interested in going through the admissions process at Abrome, and the age-old problem of thinking that if you’re already behind you can just throw another delayed blog post to the pile.

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Monday, March 29th would be our last day before people started coming back from quarantine in the specialty cell that I was in with Facilitator Ariel, the Flying Squad. I wanted to start the week strong with the few who were not in quarantine, so I asked the group what was interfering with our ability to focus on social justice. The answers included that our drop off point was too far west, that some were uninterested, that some were distracted by food, and that some were too focused on spending money. On this day we committed to supporting a Learner’s focus on houselessness, a big issue in Austin right now as there is a campaign to criminalize the houseless. We agreed to walk to a mural of Wonder Woman in downtown Austin that was across the street from an encampment, so that the Learner could hand out cliff bars and water to the houseless and engage with them about some of the challenges that they are facing. We agreed that we would stop by some food trucks to appease the fixation that some Learners had on buying food (that they cannot easily get at home).

One of the Learners who had been wearing hiking boots had been struggling as of late, and we were thrilled to see that he got a new pair of sneakers, which he later reported made his walking experience much more comfortable. With better shoes we were all comfortable taking a different path in search of new experiences. As we walked there was lots of conversation about social justice oriented concerns. Two of the Learners had made comments about how they were uncomfortable around the houseless, so Facilitator Ariel asked them to talk about their fears. This led them to discussing what type of prejudices are common in society, and how such prejudices can infect us.

Meanwhile, on the walk I got to speak with the Learner who was on a mission to learn more about how she could impact the issue of houselessness. She admitted that she did not know how to talk to houseless folks, and worried that she would not be able to talk to them in a way that made them feel comfortable. I suggested that she talk to them as she would anyone that she was meeting on the street for the first time, and then we talked about strategies to do so. Fortunately she brought food and drinks that she could offer folks which would serve as a potential segue into a conversation between two people who are curious about one another. I also brought up my concerns about coming across as someone who is probing people for information, with the assumption that they can solve their problems. Specifically, we talked about the notion of white saviorism, and how that could potentially play into such interactions. The Learner was quite nervous, but eager to consider ways of being that would prevent her from unknowingly doing harm.

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When we got to the Wonder Woman mural we took a break to drink water while the Learner who was leading the way prepared to engage with the folks at the encampment. I was really impressed with the way that the Learner acknowledged her fear, and then made her way into the encampment offering support and looking for conversation. Unfortunately for her, it was the middle of the day and hot, so a lot of folks were not available to speak with her. Nonetheless, she engaged with some houseless folks. The two other Learners who had admitted to being uncomfortable around the houseless observed her efforts, and it was nice to see their perceptions challenged.

Then we walked across the Congress Street bridge where we came up on one of the large office buildings, where I noticed a bunch of studs that were placed on the marble that ran along long rows of raised plant beds. I asked the Learners if they knew why the studs were added to the marble, assuming that it was to prevent houseless folks from laying down, which would have been quite topical given the mission for the day. A Learner guessed that it was to prevent skateboarders from using it, and I replied, “actually …” and went into an explanation of what hostile architecture (or anti-homeless architecture) is. Facilitator Ariel then interjected and said that actually that particular type of stud is meant to prevent skateboarders from using it, and then we talked about the differences between anti-skateboard architecture and hostile architecture. It was a really good moment for me to model to a Learner that it was okay to be wrong, and to learn from it.

As we continued to walk, one of the Learners asked me if I was excited about the Godzilla vs. Kong movie that was coming out. I told him I was uninterested in watching any King Kong movies as they were rooted in anti-Black racism. This caught the Learner off-guard, and he explained that his desire to watch the movie had nothing to do with racism, and then he began to talk about how great the movie was going to be. I acknowledged that his interest in the movie was not rooted in racism, but that the movie was, and that I was willing to talk to him about why they are racist. But that I was not interested in talking to him about his arguments for why he would watch the movie in spite of their racist history. He then took the conversation to Facilitator Ariel, who likewise told him that he was not interested in talking about the movie. The day was shaping up to be one that really challenged this Learner’s beliefs.

We continued to walk in support of a Learner’s mission to engage with the houseless, and we focused on walking toward the Arch near 7th and Red River. As we were walking an individual began walking with us, trying to engage with us. One Learner asked, ‘why was the homeless guy trying to talk to us,’ and we asked him why he assume the person was houseless. This led to another conversation about prejudices and assumptions.

After we stopped so the Learner could hand out some more water and cliff bars, we decided that it was time for the Learner and Facilitator Ariel to get some long overdue lunch. We made our way back to Congress so that we could stop at a convenience store where they could grab food. When we arrived, however, there were a handful of Austin Police Officers standing around. All the Learners wanted to go in, so I offered to watch over their bags at some tables reserved for customers of the store. Facilitator Ariel recognizing that I would be out there around APD cops asked me if I would be alright, which one of the Learners picked up on. Facilitator Ariel then explained to her why he asked that given my past experiences with the Austin Police Department, and the need for us all to be watching out for one another.

After Facilitator Ariel and the Learner got some food, and another Learner got himself some seaweed and a drink, we settled in to eat our lunches. I ate a sandwich that I had packed in my bag, while another Learner ate from a bag of chips that he had brought along. It was restful sitting there and eating and talking with one another in the shade, and we were in no hurry to get going. When we finally finished and as we were packing up, Facilitator Ariel got a call from a friend who wanted him to know that they were at the sight of a protest where people were getting arrested. We were only two and a half blocks away, so we decided to walk in that direction.

When we arrived at protest site at 4th and Congress, where Garrett Foster, a supporter of Black Lives Matter, was killed the past summer, we noticed that police had shut down the street and surrounded the group of protesters who were yelling at them. We later found that the police had come up on the protest and threatened to arrest the protesters, to include Garrett’s finance, Whitney, a Black woman and quadriplegic who was with Garrett when he was killed the prior summer. Two white women then positioned themselves between the police and Whitney, which led to the police arresting one of the women, shoving the other woman out of the road, and dumping Whitney out of her wheelchair into the gutter. Understandably, the protesters were outraged by the actions of the police, and from a safe distance I was able to talk to the Learners about what had happened and why the police were so antagonistic toward these protesters in particular.

As the police relocated away from the protesters, and as the protest died down, we began to walk back toward the pick-up point at Zilker Park. During the walk one of the younger Learners expressed how concerned he was for Facilitator Ariel during the incident, and how he wanted him to avoid the police so that he would not be arrested. Facilitator Ariel explained to the Learner that as a Black man he does not get the luxury of just avoiding the police in Austin, but that he would do his best to not engage with them. It was a heavy day for the Learners, as we had several extended conversations about houselessness, racism, and police brutality.

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Because of the unexpected stop at the protest site, we really needed to move. While one of the Learners no longer needed to stop at the food truck because he ate at the convenience store, one of the Learners still hadn’t been able to get any food, and that was his main objective for the day. Facilitator Ariel agreed to jog with him to P. Terry’s while the rest of us would go straight to the pickup point. Our path took us by Trader Joe’s, where the Learner had previously gotten boxes of organic jelly beans, and asked if we could stop in to buy some more. I reminded him that he agreed to go straight back, and that he agreed to keep walking. We made such good time that we were able to spin around some bars along the river, and got back to the pick up point with time to spare.

Once Facilitator Ariel and the other Learner joined us we settled in for a great afternoon roundup. We noted that each of us had walked 6.2-7.2 miles that day, and we were able to really dive into some social justice topics. All in all, it was a really great day for us as a Flying Squad.

Meanwhile, at the other cell:

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As and LS selfie **IMG_2394.JPG