“What’s on Planet Ernesto?” I asked.
“There’s LOTS of dirt for dirt bikes and motorcycles, and so many trees that grow apples- but not the fruit kind, the candy ones. Can there be a rainbow road with unicorns and lots of stars in the sky? Sounds beautiful!” he replied, his eyes looking afar and glowing with wonder. I chuckled.
“Ok, your turn! What’s on Planet Angela?”
“Well, how about you make it up for me?”
“Okay, hmm…probably lots of coffee!”
As you could imagine, I burst out laughing by this point. I mean come on y’all, that couldn’t have been more accurate- Planet Angela would most definitely run on coffee. I had been placing a tumbler with tea or coffee on the desk every day that I came into class for “Impacto”, a summer enrichment program for kids in the inner city of LA located in Boyle Heights that I was volunteering for in my duration as a LAUP Intern. Ernesto, a 8-year-old boy in the 2nd/3rd-grade class I was assisting for, must have noticed my tumbler when we read together and stored it in his memory.
That wasn’t the only moment he proved his spectacular memory and attention to detail. As we walked on the streets for the program’s weekly neighborhood field trips (whether to a police station, park, or library), he would tell me from the beginning the exact directions to reach our destination. While we headed back to the classroom from lunch time, he would vividly describe a funny movie scene or tell stories of his family from years prior. He was even able to digest complicated plots in the Star Wars comic book that I read with him, which was way above his reading level- and honestly, I didn’t even understand what was going on half the time.
Throughout LAUP, I learned about the complex layers of systemic injustice and how that affects people, especially low-income ethnic minority communities. In fact, it’s so deeply ingrained and complex that it feels hopeless to see any change no matter how much people shout for help and their voices to be heard, or how much they try to push and yank off the strings that are choking them. Trying to untie one string out of the many intertwined strings of a giant knotted ball still leaves an inevitably giant knotted ball. It was not the first time I heard about these issues, but being away without technology or worries of everyday life for 6 weeks really forced me to immerse into the deeper waters.
It’s one thing to hear about these messed up policies and the overwhelming, glaring statistics, but another to build relationships, hear real-life stories, and witness them yourself. Also, I did not expect to see so much of my own story in what I heard and learned- how freaking uncomfortable! I was at LAUP to learn about injustice and God’s heart, not about my own past and present hardships or pains- what the heck, Jesus?! That’s what being at LAUP was like for me, if I had to summarize it.
The partial narrative of my LAUP experience that I’m about to continue telling here is about how one boy’s life intersected with mine at the right place in the right time, and how Jesus used this to grip my heart, alter my perspective, and realign the trajectory of my future. There is no happy ending or a clear resolution to this story, but it is one that is honest and real.