Today I held a reflection for the students of Messmer High School, an inner-city high school here in the city of Milwaukee. I've hosted reflection groups for schools, confirmation classes, and other groups from around the area. However this has been the greatest group of students I've yet had here at the meal.
For most groups looking to learn more about St. Ben's Community Meal, we offer reflection sessions for people. This consists of a history and talk about the history and change of St. Benedict the Moor from its creation in 1909. People are then invited to eat (not help) with the other guests at the meal. After waiting in line, getting a meal, and interacting with the other guests at the meal, a reflection is done about their experience that's directed by either me or Br. Dave. For many groups, this is a jarring and eye-opening experience; often times groups have never had any type of interaction with the homeless.
For whatever reason, be it sociological, cultural, or whatever, the students from Messmer thrived and openly engaged with the guests at the meal. While recognizing the plight of the guest's situations, they also recognized their own personal privileges and realized that they had much to learn from the people who were eating at the Community Meal. Rather than try and force kids to talk about an experience that they couldn't yet understand, they gratefully participated in the reflection, and wanted to continue and interact with people down in the meal hall after we were done.
I have another talk with students this weekend, a group that will be fasting for 36 hours for Lent. While I have no idea what kind of reaction I can expect from them, I have found the "goal" of my talks: that they may be as energized to be involved and to be present with the poor community as the class from Messmer I had today.