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Building a community in the face of discrimination

Jodie Geddes, 21, is a student at Guilford College and interned in summer 2013 with AFSC in North Carolina. Photo: AFSC

Since she was a young girl in Brooklyn, Jodie Geddes has experienced how abuses of power play out in schools and on the streets.

Her community members are stopped and frisked by police officers because of their race. She was excluded from certain relationships in school because the culture there didn’t make space for her multi-national identity. In North Carolina, where she’s now a student at Guilford College, she sees how immigrant communities are marginalized by state policies.

Jodie is not one to disengage in the face of ugliness; instead, she goes where her heart moves her. “As human beings, we have a responsibility to protect our community members,” she says.

This summer has been a time of learning and a reminder of why she does what she does.

Since May, Jodie has interned in the American Friends Service Committee’s (AFSC) office in Greensboro, N.C., working for immigrants’ rights. A community justice studies major in college, she is particularly interested in how schools serve as a place of integration and socialization for immigrants.

“I remember my own experiences and felt like schools did not do a good enough job of making me feel welcomed as both a Jamaican and American citizen,” she says. She was born in Jamaica, came to the U.S. as a young girl, and eventually got U.S. citizenship.

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Through her internship she co-led sessions on culture at a summer camp for immigrant and refugee youth from African and South Asian backgrounds.

Fundamental, inalienable rights

In June, Jodie gathered with other AFSC interns in Washington, D.C., for a weeklong youth summit on human rights.

As they read and talked about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 7 stood out to Jodie. It says: “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination…”  

It’s a right that Jodie sees infringed upon every day.

During the summit, she talked with lawmakers about immigration reform from a human rights perspective when she and fellow North Carolina intern Alex Garrison visited Capitol Hill to discuss the issue with legislators.

Their visit happened to be the same day that the Senate passed its immigration reform bill, S744, which AFSC has criticized for not going far enough to protect human rights.

Jodie (right) and Alex talk with John Mautz, Legislative Director to Congressman Howard Coble (R-NC) Jodie’s experience visiting Congress reaffirmed her sense that lawmakers are misinformed about the experiences of immigrant families.

“As a black woman in America, I already hold many assumptions about the system and how much they know regarding the lives of black and brown citizens,” she says. “I was more disappointed that they would say OK to meeting with me and not brief themselves on the bill or issues surrounding immigration.”

At the end of the week, Jodie reflected that it was an emotion-filled experience. The end isn’t near, she said, but “there is light on this journey.”

That light was shining back in North Carolina, where a summer-long weekly protest series at the capitol building has brought out thousands of state residents to voice their opposition to regressive policies passing through both houses of their legislature. Jodie attended one Monday along with AFSC staff and local Quakers.

Ten thousand people attended the summer’s final Moral Monday on July 26. It was North Carolina’s largest demonstration in years. Seeing all those people reassures Jodie that there are people in the state who “get it,” she says: “They understand and have always understood what community means and needs.”

“There have been many times where my faith has been shaken, but to observe the work that so many are doing and including me in, I feel blessed and overwhelmed with joy,” she says. “It’s really empowering and makes me want to keep going.”