When I was part of a group called DC Writer’s Way, we would teach writing workshops throughout the Washington, DC area. So, it came as no surprise when we were asked to form a workshop in the Congress Heights Community. Yet, that did not stop my internal fears of actually going there, since crime was rampant. Additionally, we were asked to teach at a halfway house that was located in the area. My fears caused me to restrain from this particular assignment, and instead of joining my friend to teach I chose to stay where I felt most comfortable.
A few weeks later, my friend reported a lack of progress at the halfway house. I finally agreed to go with her, and I prayed the whole way there. Visions of the worst possible things that could happen roamed my mind. A feeling of relief came over me once we were finally there safely, but then I caught sight of the women’s raging eyeballs staring at me like they were ready to punch me in the face. A tall, big-boned woman with an Afro stood up from her chair and said, “I see the white girl brought back-up this time.” All the women starting laughing. I wasn’t sure if they were laughing because the woman seemed to be the ringleader and they were afraid of her or if they thought she was actually funny. Nonetheless, I proceeded with a formal, yet timid introduction before handing out writing exercises. The room was cold at first, and no one wanted to share their pieces. When I read a few of my own, the floodgates opened. The women began to open up and share. Some of them read their pieces with tears streaming down their cheeks. A part of me felt ashamed. I wondered why I allowed my preconceived notions to prevent me from showing compassion.
The women at the halfway house in Congress Heights taught me a lesson in humility, and it’s a lesson that I will never forget.