A Christmas Tale From Australia by Kevin Scanlon

Christmas is an exuberant holiday, is it not? All the joys of seeing your whole family in our tightly knit sweaters while feasting up and opening gifts from one another. Along with that come all of the Christmas joys. Decorating the tree, bedazzling the house with lights and wonderful decorations, and playing outside in the cold, snowy evening, or watching it from the inside trickle down and cover the street until it looks like a giant white blanket. This is probably what you and I are used to, being as though we both live in the Northern Hemisphere where December 25th is Christmas during the season of winter. In the Southern hemisphere where Christmas takes place during the summer, the holiday is just one big cook out where all of the family members are in shorts, eating outside, and the Christmas decorations are summer oriented, with Santa Claus dressed in shorts and a life vest, riding water skis pulled by a giant fish. Seeing as we’re so used to it being in the winter, it’s kind of hard to imagine right?

During one Christmas, my immediate family and I took a month long vacation down to Australia to see my aunt, uncle and their three kids. They live in Sydney which is on the eastern part of the continent and when I arrived, the temperature was 94 degrees. It was a very hot and humid Christmas. The strange and exotic creatures I spotted on our way to the house included lizards, snakes, scorpions, and exotic spiders. Part of me was very creeped out and wished I was back in N.Y. but the other part of me found it very interesting. As we were inside with the A/C turned on full blast, we all chowed down on the typical Christmas day dinner which included roast beef, asparagus, and many other nutrients. Then we had our apple pie from America, opened our gifts and went to sleep as we awaited the arrival of next morning.

It was the 26th and it was 95 degrees out. My cousin who was a huge motorcycle enthusiast loved traveling cross country and he knew that I was very much into long distance traveling as well. So he suggested to me that he and I should ride our motorcycles from our current location (Sydney) to Perth, which was at the other end of Australia, and back. He explained how the trip would probably take around 4 days to finish because it was a little over a 1000 miles from Sydney to Perth. I agreed to do it. So we packed our stuff into a couple of back packs. His backpack included extra gloves, first aid kits, bandanas, towels, and four water bottles. Mine included a few pairs of underwear and about six bottles of gator aid. I figured as long as I had my iPhone and my credit card, I didn’t need anything else. Ha Ha.

So we took off the next morning, I followed him through the beautiful streets of Sydney where we passed tall buildings and beautiful pong trees. As we got off the highway where literally everyone was going over 80 mph, we reached the desert where we spotted many exotic spiders that were almost the size of tarantulas. Out of all the creatures I saw on my way there, I had a feeling that these spiders would give us the most trouble. My cousin felt indifferent because he’s used to seeing creatures like this but for me, just looking at them as I was creating a dust storm through the rocky Australian desert made me feel like I was in a Stephen King movie. They were of different colors, some even red and grey, and had these weird doll eyes.

So there we were, a couple of adventurers riding off in the face of fear. We made it about 300 miles from Sydney all the way into the dirt trails of the Australian Outback located in the middle of the continent. My cousin was riding with purpose, speaking through a radio headset telling me where we would go and which shortcuts to take. At that point I have gotten extremely confident on my motorcycle and dare I say cocky. Cutting over a big patch of land, my cousin decided to show off with some cockiness of his own and went airborne over it as he likes to be the daredevil at times. Unfortunately his daredevil antics didn’t pay off because as he hit the ground, his bike landed awkwardly on the side of its tire and caused him to crash and burn like Evel Knievel. Fearing for his life, I slammed on the breaks, skidding up dust, and ran as fast as I could over to my cousin who as it turns out, ended up with a 5 inch cut on his left knee. The injury was very minor but his bike had a broken handle bar and a popped tire so now he couldn’t ride it anymore.

So I’m bandaging this guy’s knee up as the day was getting shorter and we were thinking we should head back home on my motorcycle and quit the journey since it wouldn’t look good having two grown men riding several hundreds of miles on one motorcycle. As I was putting away the first aid supplies, suddenly I felt something sharp and painful go right into the top of my left ankle. I was bit by an exotic spider, the same ones that I’d been worrying about the entire trip. So after I was caring for my cousin, he all of a sudden started caring for me and he noticed that the bite was swelling out of control. We were now two guys in the middle of nowhere with only one motorcycle and a bad spider bite.

So he had to get on my bike and I had to sit right behind him. We then had to ride a few hundred miles back to Sydney to see a doctor. It was maybe the most humiliating experience of my life. My fleshy white arms were wrapped around his waist and I was softly weeping over whether or not I was going to die of a spider bite. As we made it back to civilization just outside of Mungo National Park about 25 miles away from Sydney, we spotted a doctor’s office and went inside to find out that I was bitten by a Red Back spider, which was very common around Australia. The bite wasn’t too severe and the doctor prescribed us antivenin which made it go away in a couple of days.

After we got back to the house late at night we both had to hear it from the family who were none too pleased with how we went about our business. His parents screamed at him for being so reckless on a motorcycle and my parents screamed at me for not noticing the big red spider before it took a bite out of my leg. My parents never trusted me on a motorcycle again or on a cross country trip for that matter. After all that went down in the Australian Outback and all that went down back in Sydney when explaining our failed adventure to the family, the only thing left on our minds were, “man this has been such a wonderful start to a Christmas vacation.”

All in all I have learned to be a more careful person. My sense of adventure has not gone away but my use of common sense has prospered. Looking back, I realize that riding two Harley Davidson motorcycles through the dry, dusty lands of the Australian Outback wasn’t the sharpest idea. My cousin and I both knew we were taking a risk but we were absolutely certain we would make it to the other side of Australia without a scratch. To me life is still a game that we play, but I understand now that it is very dangerous and one little mistake could mean your life. I am more cautious about where I go and what I do in the future.

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About the Author,

Kevin Scanlon

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My name is Kevin Scanlon and I am a John Jay College graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice. I am 22 years old, born and raised on Staten Island, NY. I am a keen observer, researcher and writer with dreams of working for the FBI or in a legal capacity to make a difference in the world we live in.

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Footprints and Wings by Aimee S. Estrada

There is a fantasy to flight, of lifting off the ground and escaping gravity through your own strength and will. There is the illusion of freedom, the idea you can go anywhere carried by your own wings, the idea of self-sufficiency. Everything a bird does, wherever it flies—how high and how long—is its own doing. Maybe that independence is what calls to me the most.

Before I visited the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City, I studied the materials given to me and was immediately drawn to a bookmark enclosed in the folder. The bookmark detailed the forth panel of the Four Great Kings C.2007.10.1 (HAR 81835) by Pema Rinzin. There were three birds perched on a tree branch, each looking in a different direction. They reminded me of sentries—guardians looking down from on high among the clouds. I thought of the role of John Jay, a school that educates for justice, a school that I attend. I thought of what it meant to be a guardian of humanity and how this tied to the concept of justice.

I was also drawn to the birds themselves.

It was pouring the evening I went to the Rubin Museum of Art, and I was exhausted, but stepping into the museum was like being transported out of space and time. There was a group of musicians playing beautiful Tibetan music in the lobby and patrons mingling in the café. I walked up the grand marble staircase, noticing that the museum is built like a spiral, ending with a glass dome. Branching off the central spiral were rooms with exhibits, forming an outer ring. The spiral—surrounded by an outer ring and divided into sections—reminded me of a dharma wheel, a Buddhist symbol which represents the path to enlightenment.

That evening, the museum muted their lighting. The music flowing up the open stairwell set the pace for my walk, my pulse, and my mind and I found myself slowing down from my hectic day. I began my journey at the Gateway to Himalayan Art exhibit located on the second floor. While I was eager to find the Four Great Kings depicted on my bookmark, I wandered slowly, absorbing information on the art and the figures and the symbols featured in them.

It was further up the stairs in the Masterworks collection that I first saw Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara in the Tradition of King Songtsen Gampo C.2003.50.5 (Har 271). Something about it arrested me. It was the antithesis of what I’d been looking for in the colorful Four Great Kings. Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara in the Tradition of King Songtsen Gampo is ancient, from the 13th century and the only colors are red and black ground mineral pigment on a faded cotton cloth canvas. The most dominant feature is a pair of footprints.

I stood staring for a long time; it could have been two minutes or twenty. Eventually I continued on. At the end of the spiral, was an exhibit on the Lukhang murals of the Dalai Lama. This room sized exhibit was amazing, and I stood transfixed before the murals. The colors were similar to the Four Great Kings, but there the similarities ended. I found other painting with birds, but the Four Great Kings eluded me.

Birds have always fascinated me. The concept of flight, of escaping gravity calls to me for all the times in my life when I’ve been stuck, trapped on a path without a means of escape. A bird can simply fly away, where we humans cannot.

I thought about what this meant in relation to justice. There is the obvious: birds represent freedom, but there is something more. A bird carries itself using its own strength and will, but they also fly in a flock. Birds fly in a V or J echelon both to conserve energy—taking advantage of the “upwash vortex fields created by the wings of the birds in front”—and to communicate with others and coordinate flight paths and patterns (Batt). The role of lead bird is distributed throughout the flock (Batt). This connects to the concept of distributive justice, where rewards and responsibilities are distributed among members of society based on each person’s abilities.

I left the Lukhang murals and continued in my quest to find the Four Great Kings. Back in the main gallery, I found myself pulled back to Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara in the Tradition of King Songtsen Gampo. I studied the painting, intrigued for a while longer, puzzling over why this painting kept calling to me. Then I continued up the staircase to the next floor. Now, I was confused and looked at my guide. The exhibits on the fourth and fifth floors were devoted to Tibetan medicine. The sixth floor contained a Sculpture of Devotion exhibit from the Brooklyn Museum. I hurried through these exhibits, fearing I was not going to find the Four Great Kings. At the top I studied the bookmark again, and then retraced my steps backwards, double checking the names of the paintings I passed. Back on the second floor I found a museum guide and learned the Four Great Kings was not currently in the exhibit.

You do not always find what you are looking for, but sometimes you find what you need. My feet were already guiding me back to the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara in the Tradition of King Songtsen Gampo. The footprints drew me to the painting. I stood there, transfixed and realized what they represented. They were wings.

Our feet are our wings.

They are our means of escaping gravity, through our own strength and will. They are what carry us down a path, or help us turn around.

Staring at this painting, I realized my wings had been with me all along. I just had forgotten about their existence.

Between the footprints stood the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. Bodhisattvas are awakened beings who put off their own enlightenment to remove obstacles from the paths of others, and guide them toward enlightenment.

Avalokiteshvara is a significant one. The patron bodhisattva of Tibet and the bodhisattva of compassion, he took a vow to forsake his own enlightenment and focus on helping others achieve their own (Himalayan Art Resource). However, after “continuously witnessing the misery of beings in various states of existence,” he grew discouraged and thought of his own enlightenment (Himalayan Art Rescource). His head then split into ten pieces and his body into one thousand (Himalayan Art Resource). He called out to the Buddha Amitabha, who put him back together, reforming him with ten faces—each facing one of the ten directions and with one thousand arms, each with an eye of Buddha in the palm—so that he could see everyone suffering (Himalayan Art Resources). He then placed a replica of his own head on top, to enable Avalokiteshvara to help all of humanity at once (Himalayan Art Resources).

Avalokiteshvara’s tale is like that of all humanity. Avolokiteshvara was fractured into many pieces for only thinking of himself. Humanity is fractured for all the times we have looked the other way, pretended we could not hear, and have remained silent. For all those times when we thought of only ourselves: the Holocaust, the genocides of Russia, Rwanda, Cambodia, Darfur, Bosnia and many, many others.

We all fracture when we remain silent, when we do nothing.

During his Nobel Peace Prize speech Elie Wiesel said, “The world did know [about the Holocaust] and remain silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation” (Wiesel). We are all one. Our suffering belongs to us all. We carry the burden of one another. Elie Wiesel turned his pain and grief into advocacy. He became a bodhisattva, a crusader for justice. When Elie Wiesel was presented with the John Jay Justice Award on May 6, 2014, he said, “We are not alone in the world. None of us are alone and therefore we are responsible for one another” (Wiesel). We will all splinter into a thousand pieces if we think only of ourselves, remain silent, and pretend we cannot see or hear.

I thought of the motto of John Jay: “Fierce Advocates for Justice.” We study to become lawyers, police officers, and writers—advocates for social change. We study to give voice to the voiceless, compassion to the less fortunate, and a helping hand to those in need.

I thought of what it means to need a helping hand, of all the times in my life when I felt trapped, when I needed a helping hand, guidance, someone to show me the way out. This is why birds speak to me so much.

Birds are independent, weightless, yet they travel in a flock. If a goose becomes sick of injured during migration, other geese will stay behind, guarding it until it recuperates or dies (World Animal Foundation). A crow’s distress call will bring other crows to their aid; even unrelated crows will defend a crow in danger (PBS). They help each other.

Like humans.

When I was trapped, in an abusive relationship, unable to see a way out, there were people who helped me escape, who removed the obstacles from my path—bodhisattvas. Then there were others who stood in my way, who held out a helping hand and then betrayed me. I remember feeling anger towards these people, wanting retribution for the ways I had been hurt and betrayed, compensation for what I had lost. I wanted justice. Then I realized they were fractured and broken people and pursing this form of justice would only inflict more injury on myself. So, I let go of my anger and forgave them, allowed compassion to overtake me.

I now try to help others. I do not look away or pretend I cannot hear. I offer compassion, support, and guidance. I try to show them the way out.

I have become, in a way, a bodhisattva. In doing so, I have found my wings.

Works Cited
“Avalokiteshvara (Bodhisattva & Buddhist Deity) – Namka Gyalpo (Gaganaraja)” Himalayan Art Resource. 2014. Web. 1 May 2014.
Batt, Bruce. “Why Do Migratory Birds Fly in a V-formation?” 1 October 2007. Scientific America. Web. 9 May 2014.
Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara in the Tradition of King Songtsen Gampo. n.d. Ground minteral pigment on cotton. Rubin Museum of Art, New York. C.2003.50.5 (Har 271)
PBS. A Murder of Crows: Introduction. 2014. Web. 9 May 2014.
Rinzin, Pema. Four Great Kings. 2007. Mineral Pigment on wood. Rubin Museum of Art, New York. C.2007.10.1 (HAR 81835)
Wiesel, Elie. “Acceptance Speech”. Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2013. Web. 12 May 2014.
Wiesel, Elie. “Acceptance Speech”. John Jay Justice Award. John Jay College of Criminal Justice. 6 May 2014.
World Animal Foundation. Goose Fact Sheet. Web. 10 May 2014

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About the Author,

Aimee Estrada

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Aimee Estrada is an observer, wanderer, and writer who believes the journey is more important than the destination. She grew up in Beacon, New York before it was trendy, knowing Pete Seeger as “that old guy who played the banjo at my elementary school.” She lives with her husband and Pokemon-obsessed son in a work-in-progress farmhouse with a backyard full of deer, wild turkeys, coyotes, and the occasional bear. Her work also has appeared in the Quill, the Sentinel, and the New York Times. 

Torments by Selda Arslan

His shade races toward me at midnight. The nights become restless when he comes to visit; full of the torments he lugs with him. I cannot bear but wonder why I beckoned such an eternal thing, on a person who I loved.

He demands me to feel the pain of his loss, stares down at me with piercing blue eyes, which collapse into my dreams. He guides me to his death, while he races along dusk. Every nightmare blends into the same demonstration. He kisses my ear with a sharp whisper, “but you wanted this”.

I find myself perched on top of a hospital bed; the smell of the sterile air surrounds the room, a faint glow comes from a lamp located in the corner, a purple velvet chair encompasses the shadow of my grandfather.

He begins to bang on my esophagus, blocking the nutrients of life to enter my body; clogging the access for happiness with a tumor. He then abrades my larynx, now; unable to speak, I no longer can sing the blissful tune of life and am involuntarily forced to use my hands as gestures to unleash my emotions to the world.

With every nightmare, the findings in my chest become heavier, forcing every second of my existence to face this, to face it. His shade begins to come towards me as I struggle to cope with it. His hands are pressed on top of my chest, it’s weight forced on me. My breath now becomes quick; with each breath anxiety fills me.

His cold large hands wrap around my neck; I look up, my eyes locked on the celling, I know what happens next. His dull thumbs violently break their way into my sweet neck, creating a trachea. The bellows of my screams vanish into the dark night, my agony ignored, by the peaceful slumber going on around me.

Blood pours out of me, drowning the floor with my honeyed essence of life. Memories float beneath the surface of this pool, hovering under the thick goo. As my feet dip into the abyss of reminisces, they stain my toes with the un-washable distress.

As the depth of the pond grows deeper, I begin to lose my consciousness, beginning my descent to death. My pulse fading, as he walks back towards his chair. The warmth possessed by my hands slowly recedes. His shade sits back into the chair, patiently waiting for his next visit.

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About the Author,

Selda Arslan

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Selda Arslan is an enthusiastic, student who is studying English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. A couple of months ago her dear grandfather had passed away with cancer, leaving her distraught with the emotions of loss. With this poem Torments, we witness her process of grief, as she tries to make sense of it all. Battling guilt and sorrow, she allows her self to finally be liberated as the piece comes to an end.

One Face, Unity, and Silence by Barna Akkas

ONE FACE

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Out of the thousands of protesters in Times Square this child caught my attention, because he is a Palestinian child; however, he resembles the face of any ordinary child in the United States. This child is not suffering, but the faces that are similar to his are the faces of children who are suffering in Gaza. Millions of children just like him look innocent and are unaware of the events that are occurring around them. The children’s innocence has now been stripped away by the warlike nature that persists each day in Palestine, or at least what is left of Palestine.

UNITY

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This photo represents a moment of unification between an Israeli child and a Palestinian child. These two children are probably unaware of what is happening in Gaza, but what they may know is that there is no reason to dispute with another young human. They are human. That’s what is being forgotten. If they are in fact of Palestinian or Israeli descent, then we need to pause and realize that these people are also made up of skin and bones just like everyone else.

Something can be learned from these two children photographed because in their eyes they are both equals.

SILENCED

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The whole world seems to be shying away from what is really at fault here. Palestinians are having their basic human rights stripped and demolished. If this were the case in the United States, then there would be riots and significant media coverage of the situation. Palestinian children will now grow up with a sense of fear, hopelessness, and distrust in themselves and the governmental system that was supposed to help them initially. For a few moments the rest of the world is sitting, watching, and discussing the issue. After these few moments are up, the rest of the world will carry on with their normal lives and forget about the issue at hand. This is disappointing. It is one thing to go out and protest, but it is another thing to get the matter at hand to be impacted by change. It is time to be heard; it is time to speak up and advocate for the silent voices of the Palestinians.

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About the Author,

Barna Akkas

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Barna lives in a world of wonderment and desire to cultivate all of the good and all of the knowledge that there is know. She lives to understand the origin of things, and her six-word memoir is just that, “An open book with missing chapters.” She lives her life to fill these missing pages with experiences, laughter, and ideas worth remembering.

THE RELAUNCH: #IAMSEEK PHOTO CAMPAIGN by Melissa Kong

“I Too, Am, Harvard” is an inspiring project by one student who highlighted the stories and voices of 63 black Harvard students. Similarly, this photo campaign is a platform for John Jay College SEEK students to voice their stories about negative or stereotypical remarks made against them.

Our voices in our classes sometimes go unheard by our professors, and our educational abilities among non-SEEK students are often times questioned.

This campaign represents our voices. We are standing up and saying WE ARE SEEK.

We are not stupid. We are proud of who we are and what we have done–despite what so many have said to us otherwise.

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When I first developed the idea of a photo campaign on the behalf of SEEK (Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge), I was on a mission to find John Jay College SEEK students who shared a similar experience to me when I first entered college.

I thought that these students would come to me, because word of mouth in the student body has always worked towards my benefit. But I quickly realized that in order to get students to open up and tell me their stories, I had to go to them first and tell them my own story.

People questioned my IQ level and assumed that I was broke because I spent all my money on Jordan’s, drugs, and alcohol. Just like the photograph of my friend above, my experience in SEEK consisted of negative perspectives and misinformed opinions about a group of individuals that the naysayers knew nothing about.

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Please note this specific photograph above does not represent all of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York’s (CUNY) faculty and staff. SEEK students have been mentored and supported by many professors. But sometimes we still feel labeled and misunderstood by the ones who are supposed to be helping us the most.

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Translation* The SEEK Program is for students with lower academic standards.” – Friend.

This is a common perception of SEEK students. But did you know that SEEK is a higher education opportunity program at the senior (four-year) colleges of CUNY? John Jay is one of those senior colleges.

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The program originally began at CUNY in 1965 and was signed into law by the New York State legislature in 1966. It was established to provide students who demonstrated academic and financial disadvantages access to a pathway to higher education.

Yes, sometimes we have less money, but that doesn’t mean you should call us poor. And yes, sometimes we have struggled academically, but that doesn’t mean we are stupid.

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We are students like Kevin Lwango.

Lwango emigrated from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Although he is fluent in French and Lingala, when he first came to the United States, he did not speak a word of English. But he fought to learn the English language and quickly overcame this barrier.

Lwango was one of the very fortunate SEEK students who did not experience any negative or stereotypical remarks made against him as a SEEK student. He stands in the photograph above as evidence of an immigrant from the Congo, a Black male. And he, too, is SEEK.

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Translation* “But SEEK? Isn’t it for poor people? You’re just begging them for money.” – Friend.

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Slang is informal use of jargon that is vulgar or socially taboo. Sometimes SEEK students bear the brunt of someone’s slang.

Even though SEEK student Manuel (Manny) Castillo, works part-time and is striving for success in every area of his life, he was insulted by a fellow classmate.

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She said to him, “You’re a SEEK student? You’re That Hoe Over There.

She incorrectly used the word “thot” in the process of trying to be clever, but instead she simply lowered others’ perception of her own intelligence level.

The slang word “thot” is often used negatively towards women to describe their promiscuous ways. Why would anyone apply that to a SEEK student?

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Yes, some of us, like Lwango, were born outside the U.S., but many of us were born right here in New York City. Does it really matter where we come from?

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Despite such odds against us, we in SEEK are committed to personal growth, academic excellence, professional development, and to changing our world we live in one step at a time.

We are SEEK. We are not stupid. And we, too, have honors.

We are recognized by our college and beyond for our academic dedication, for our community service, and for our efforts to make the world more just.

Below are the honors and achievements that only those SEEK students highlighted in this photo essay have gained.

1 = John Jay College SEEK Alumna

11 = Full-time or Part-time Jobs

8 = Chi Alpha Epsilon (XAE) National Honor Society

1 = John Jay Presidential Intern

1 = John Jay Student Council Representative

1 = John Jay Vera Fellow

2 = Pinkerton Community Fellows

2 = NASPA Undergraduate Fellow Program

3 = Ronald E. McNair Scholars

1 = Student Athlete

9 = Membership in One or More Clubs at John Jay

3 = Peer Ambassadors

1 = Peer Counselor

3 = SEEK Peer Mentors

3 = Urban Male Initiative Peer Advocate Mentors

16 = Urban Male Initiative Students

2 = Study Abroad Students

$20,000 = Total Amount of Scholarship Money Won

WE ARE SEEK.

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John Jay College of Criminal Justice, The City University of New York

SEEK Students Breaking Barriers

VIDEO #IAMSEEK COMING SOON SPRING 2015

A special thank you to Professor Sara Whitestone in English, Dr. Monika Son in SEEK, and Nic White in the Writing Center of John Jay College for their words of encouragement, advice, and for being my cheerleaders throughout this process.

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About the Author,

Melissa Kong

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You can find Melissa Kong making sandwiches for the homeless on a school night or sitting next to a Humans of New York stranger on the crowded 2 train, peacefully jamming to the latest tunes as a temporary reprieve from the chaos of reality. Kong is an Asian-American writer who loves Law & Order re-runs, a bowl of homemade macaroni and cheese, and sweetened ice tea. She is in search of the next big adventure and is driven to find her own voice through personal and journalistic narrative writing. She hopes to inspiring others to have the courage to write.

The Uncorrupted Enlightenment by Fifi Youssef

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Three winters, two summers, gone, yet I swear I still remember every little detail from those twelve hours. I can still hear everything from the passengers arguing over their seat numbers to everyone applauding the pilot after takeoff and then again at landing. I remember seeing the TV monitors set on the game Bejeweled, or some on animated kickboxing games, and others on the movie, The Heat. The light scented vapors from the tea and the overpowering aroma of black instant roasted coffee seemed to still be lingering around me. Everything felt surreal as if I had painted this picture in my mind.

I had a feeling this trip was going to be unlike any other. I had been having a strange gut feeling and butterflies in my stomach. I convinced myself these feelings were no more than just nervousness and anxiety since I haven’t seen my family and homeland in so many years. After boarding the plane and fighting over my window seat with some stubborn lady who seemed to be in her late thirties (yet, dressed as if she was still 18), I got comfortable, rolled up the window blind, and waited. I’ve always had a weird connection to the window seat. Once I’m up in the sky, I get this sense of being at home–a place where I can’t be judged over my thoughts. While everyone wastes their twelve hours sleeping, I sit and stare out my window.

Waiting for about an hour, the clock finally hit 7:00pm, and we began defying gravity. It was then when everything changed and I began to understand that strange gut feeling I’ve been having. The world I thought I understood became a blur. The individual I thought I was changed. Living within the sunset rather than living under it challenged everything I thought I knew. The flight I thought I remembered became a picture I thought I’d never believe. All the little details I remembered had now vanished. They vanished into the light gold rays reflecting onto the pureness of the white, cotton, bulbous clouds that were placed so unaccountably perfectly.

Living suspended in a place that seems to remain unnamed, untouched, and uncorrupted within the world I thought I knew changed everything. It made me question everything I never thought of questioning. It created a wider scope of thinking for me. It seemed as if my mind was imprisoned for all these years, and this was the perfect time for it to escape.

How can we live in such a toxic world, yet this–THIS could still be so inexplicably beautiful and pure?

 

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About the Author,

Fifi Youssef

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Fifi youssef is a crazy, outgoing, coffee lover. She is a published writer and dreams of becoming a legal writing professor. Fifi is a huge lipstick junkie and a fashionista. She believes that whether it’s her image, her writing, or even her cooking everything must be at its finest. Fifi is making her way to becoming the next Egyptian woman to bring change and justice to the world with her writing one piece at a time.

Welcome Home by Angela Joseph-Pauline

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This mailbox stands at attention on the side of a mountain in Vauclin, Martinique. It guards my matriarchal grandmother, Mami Medelice, however I feel that it also watches over the other parts of my family who call the island home. I took this picture after having dropped off Mami Medelice in a taxi that was to take her to the pharmacy. When I turned to walk back up the long driveway I noticed just how beautiful this mailbox was. Since Mami Medelice had insisted I take a picture of her walking into the Taxi, to send to my mother, I already had my phone out. I simply had to raise my hand to capture the scene in front of me. As I studied the photo, on my way back up the driveway, I thought about all the names on the mailbox.

The first two names are the people that built the foundation for this part of the family, my grandparents. My grandfather made this mailbox with his bare hands. They had eight children, half girls the other half boys, and they cemented into them everyday that laughter is the only way to make it through life without letting the hardships control them. These children then passed that laughter on to their own offspring. My mother would remind me of this whenever I took life too seriously. She’d say, “My parents taught us that if you don’t laugh in this life, you’ll always be crying. So Angela, don’t worry. Be happy.” Then she would walk away singing to herself amused at her own saying.

As the months passed after my vacation had ended, I went about my life not thinking about the picture at all. I was working, and school had started, leaving any thoughts outside of these two things nearly impossible. The mailbox picture cannonballed back into my mind at a time when I was desperately looking for a way to connect my familial background and myself. My patriarchal grandmother, Mami Anita, had just died, and I became obsessed with feeling closer to a part of my family that I only see every six or seven years.

The last time I visited her at her house in the capital of Martinique, Mami Anita was barely lucid. There was a family-wide denial of my grandmother’s worsening condition. She had been showing signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia, or another form of memory deterioration, but the family refused to believe it and since Dr. Thomas (who has been our physician for generations) didn’t want to break their hearts. Before I came to visit I had been hearing about my grandmother’s weird acts from a distance and found it more than probable that she had memory issues. But the denial of the family in Martinique was so deep rooted that when she completely stopped eating, they believed that they could pray her back to full health instead of preparing for the inevitable.

When I visited the island the December before her death, my aunt had finally convinced Mami Anita to leave her bed and come down to sit in the living room. She was sitting in her special chair, and I was sitting on the couch reading. I was determined to get through the whole Harry Potter series during my last two weeks on the island. Mami had been staring at me for a long time, but I figured she was zoned out. Eventually she looked at me and said, “My girl, aren’t you hot with all that hair on your head?” The question caught me off guard, but I couldn’t help but laugh.

“Non Mami, I’m not. I put it up in a ponytail when it gets too hot. See?” I replied, putting my hair in a ponytail to show her.

“Oh,” she said, “Whose child are you again?”

“I’m your son Joachim’s daughter.” I said my smile fading.

It was the first of many little conversations about my hair, the heat, and whose child I was. We never had any long conversations. I couldn’t bring myself to ask her if she remembered me as a child running up and down the stairs. If she remembered fighting with me to finish my food. Or even if she remembered me sitting at her feet playing with my Lego set as she was watching her shows. I knew the answer and I didn’t think I wanted to hear it vocalized. Those weren’t things I wanted to think about in the limited amount of time that I had with her. I knew then that this would probably be the last time that I would see her alive.

When it was time for me to head back to Mami Medelice’s (my other grandmother’s) house I hugged Mami Anita with as much love as I could muster. The ride back up the mountain was filled with quiet tears and loud memories. I knew I would, most likely, never see her again and I was having a very hard time coping with this very real possibility. We arrived at Mami Medelice’s house just in time for lunch, but afterwards I found myself sitting on a rock directly in front of the mailbox looking at its armor and paying attention to the surroundings of its post. I listened to the breeze as it pushed its way through the flowers and the leaves around it. I was able to clear my mind and focus on the happiness that it seemed to filter in. I observed the pink tint that lined most of the plants around the edges of their leaves. A purple plant seemed like it was painted, but in reality, it wasn’t. I began to remember again, but this time I was able with a smile. I remembered how much Mami Anita loved her grandchildren. I remembered that she had lived her ninety-four years filled with family that loved her. I let the mailbox take the sad thoughts and memories that I had been carrying and in its place a sense of acceptance was uncovered. Sitting in front of that mailbox that represented one grandmother and her family, I took my first step in coping with my other grandmother’s illness.

A few months later I was informed that Mami Anita had completely stopped eating. Prior to that she had been on an all liquid diet, but she later she seemed to not only be unable to swallow but unwilling to as well. The family prayed for a full recovery, but I, on the other hand, knew that she was ready to go, and no one was going to stop her. Within a month Mami Anita was gone. After hearing the news of her passing, my mind wandered back to the mailbox.

I remember how when I had been sitting by the mailbox and  it had begun to get dark, I decided to make my way inside. As I passed the mailbox on my way up the driveway, I stripped off any negative feelings or issues that I was carrying. I entered a place where positivity and laughter took precedence. As I walked further away from the mailbox, I imagined my grandfather wielding the steel beam onto the bottom of the box whistling as he worked, making a guardian to watch over his future family. The pride that he must have had as he first showed my Mami Medelice the progress he had made on the house, including the mailbox that they could finally call their own.

Mami Medelice was at the end of the driveway, waiting for me to come to dinner. She had a smile on her lips and was lightly teasing me for taking so long to come back inside, “I thought you were never coming back. Go sit down at the table. Dinner is waiting for you.” We ate in a comfortable silence knowing that our mailbox protector was out front, turning away any negativity. After dinner I began to walk into my room, but Mami Medelice stopped me and said, “I’m happy you found your way back to the house. I thought I would have had to send  someone out to find you.” After a moment I responded, “Don’t worry Mami. I’ll always find my way back to family.”

This old mailbox has been around for generations. And although the plants have grown around it, it still holds its post at the side of that mountains, allowing new names to be added to it, standing at attention, watching and waiting for us each to come back. It holds the memories that I would never want to forget. Its continuous presence has allowed me to re-associate the difficult last days of my other grandmother’s death with positive memories of the time I spent with her. This simple mailbox with the names of so many of my loved ones is my connection to a world that seems so far away. It is the connection to my only living grandparent, and I am not yet ready to give that up. As the new generation of the family is arriving, the only thing I can think to tell them is to remember that you always have a place to come home to. The Mailbox is our home.

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About the Author,

Angela Joseph-pauline

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Angela Joseph-Pauline, who responds quicker to Angie, is a French-American writer who attempts to paint her world as pink as she possibly can. She can usually be found with a laugh on her lips and a dance on her hips at some family function or another. She is currently attempting to finish her degree,  and hopes to be the wall decoration and not the deodorant, in Forensic Psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Years from now you’ll most likely find her as the next Cake Boss.