by Korkor Koppoe

This spring break I had the opportunity to spend a week in Richmond, VA (oh so far away!) and worked with the Fan Free Clinic. I must admit, the first few days were rough. I realized that I went into this experience with the wrong ideas about what we were going to be doing. I thought we would be working alongside the doctors, patients, and other staff members in the clinic. We spent most of our time in a classroom in the basement of the clinic. I realized that Branch Out is really dedicated to educating students on issues in the community rather than having us go into communities with no knowledge and leave after a week of “service”. While it was tiring and often an information overload, I can honestly say that I walked away with more knowledge than I entered with

One of the best experiences for me was visiting The Healing Place—a recovery resource homeless men in Richmond VA who are suffering from addiction to drugs and/or alcohol. While there we sat down and had conversations with some of the men in the program. One of the men that I spoke with really had a huge impact on my experience. He was from the town right next to where I grew up and talked about his time in high school and how he started getting into trouble and slowly experimenting with drugs. The gentleman continued on to tell me about his dreams of going to college and making a change in the world. What I realized from our conversation was that we are all the same: we have all made mistakes at some point in our lives. Throughout the week I heard many other stories from members of marginalized communities. One common theme was that they all felt as if people treated them like they were second-class citizens. Some of these horror stories included having a difficult time finding housing due to prior incarceration, being kicked out of their homes, getting fired, and even being refused healthcare they were transgender.  After this week of ups and downs, the main thing that I walked away with was that I have to remember that at the end of the day we are all humans and we all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of our prior mistakes and life choices.