Staying Motivated Amidst Frustration – St. Paul, MN


It is always nice to take a break from the whirlwind that is life, and what could be a better break than leaving behind all technology, all connections to the outside world, and traveling with a group of strangers to a place you have never been. This has been my philosophy for my past three semesters at Creighton, which is why the service and justice trip program has been a good fit. I have been fortunate enough to have gone to Milwaukee, East St. Louis, and now, St. Paul.

My last two trips had been transformative: I changed my major after my first one and I left my second one discerning what career path I wanted to follow. I was eager and a little scared of what my third trip would offer.

The week itself was a hodgepodge of different meetings; we had a tour of three scared Dakota sites, we met with four non-profits, we did the Day in a Life program with a local shelter, we stumbled upon a demonstration put on by the Minnesota teachers against the detention centers at the border, we learned about Guatemala and reasons for migration, and we learned how to advocate for changes to the unjust systems in place in our world. I will admit, I walked into the trip believing that I already knew so much about advocacy that I was basically a pro. Luckily, I was knocked off that pedestal quickly and I was challenged in some of my previous conceptions of advocacy.

At some point in my life I had changed the meaning of the Martin Luther King Jr. quote “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” to mean that if you couldn’t somehow fix the big system all at once, then any work you did to fix injustice at lower levels would not change anything. I was too big picture focused that I didn’t realize that without the small details and images, the big picture couldn’t exist. When meeting with CTUL, a non-profit focused on rights of laborers, the presenter Luna said “I realized that I would never be able to change the world all at once, but that I could change the lives of a few individuals in my community. And that is when I knew what I should devote my time and energy to.” I was shaken. I don’t think I was ever arrogant enough to believe that I could fix all the injustices in the world, but I do think that I had it in my head that I would die trying. Luna really made me rethink what I wanted to focus on, something I am still discerning.

I fell into a negative spiral of thoughts circling around the idea that if I couldn’t change the world then I couldn’t do anything. That was changed by the demonstration that my group somehow found ourselves in while outside of the library in downtown St. Paul, during which three students shared their stories and experiences with the US immigration process. One of the students who spoke up was a 10-year-old girl in the fifth grade. In front of at least 100 or so people and a news camera, she shared her fears, her hopes and dreams, and her passions. Her words stirred in me a pull to do something, what that was exactly I’m still not sure, but I was motivated by her. At the end of her story, she asked that we take action. That we fight for a more just immigration system so that she and her siblings don’t have to fear losing their parents. She reminded me again of Luna’s words. I can do something, even if it is small scale and local and behind the scenes. It matters; the actions we take matter.

Reflection is an important part of the trip and happens every night to give everyone a chance to process what they have experienced. Our reflections were open and honest as we all struggled with different parts of the trip. My take away from the reflections was something that I learned from my fellow participants – while it is okay to feel frustrated and upset, that doesn’t mean we can give up; we should learn from our frustration.

How did I leave this trip? Well, I left frustrated, confused, disappointed, sad, but I also left motivated, ready to keep fighting in whatever way, big or small, that I can. I left still reflecting. Can I change the world? No, at least not alone. However, the people that changed the world did it more through the influence of their actions than by their actions themselves. Will injustice be eradicated in my lifetime? Probably not, but does that mean that we are allowed to abandon the work? If the little girl taught me anything, we have no excuse not to advocate at all times; we are never too young or too busy to advocate. Because there are always consequences if our voices aren’t heard.

Catherine Cottrill, Class of 2022