A mosaic celebrates both the uniqueness of an individual tile and the collective pattern of many tiles together. This is the driving vision behind Interfaith Youth Neighborhood Mosaic; it is a celebration of an individual’s identity and the richness that identity brings to a diverse community. This past June, 20 middle school students from South Philadelphia spent a week exploring their own identities and the diversity of their neighborhood. Here are some reflections from our staff who crafted this wonderful program.
Elizabeth Royer – Community Programs Associate & Mosaic Co-Facilitator
One of my favorite moments of the week was our visit to St. Thomas Aquinas Parish. Mosaic gives campers a way to learn about other faith communities that they might pass everyday, but may not know much about. Some campers had never been inside a Catholic church before this visit, while others were members of St. Thomas Aquinas and attended services there. Though St. Thomas Aquinas is one faith community, there are signs all around the sanctuary of the diversity of cultural and linguistic communities that share this sacred space. Between the different representations of saints from around the world, to the flags that hang in the back of the church to indicate all the countries represented in the congregation, it was a beautiful reminder that different communities can coexist while still maintaining the qualities that make them unique. Additionally, it was a chance for us to learn how much more there is to know about our neighbors and ourselves. One student said that she learned “about all the different types of people in our community that I didn’t know were here. I made a lot of good friends, and these strangers became my friends."
Chelsea Jackson – Community Partnerships Manager & Mosaic Co-Facilitator
One of my favorite things about Mosaic is its use of art to celebrate each students’ identity and deepen their understanding of one another. The “Portrait Project” activity was especially powerful. Each student had their profile traced. Outside their profile, they drew/wrote the stories, assumptions, or stereotypes people project onto them, while inside their profile they wrote all of the things that make them who they are; what they like, the relationships they hold, their hobbies and talents, etc.
One particular observation the students made was just how different each profile was. Whether it captured the shape of a hat, the style of hair, the outline of a hijab or glasses, each profile was unique to each student. The students noticed this right away, and some became embarrassed at how different their profile looked from some of their peers. A few even tried to draw a new profile of themselves and erase the parts of their profile that made them different. In that moment, I reminded the students that their differences were beautiful and important, and they should never be ashamed or embarrassed for being who they are. After our talk, most students opted to keep their original and wonderfully unique profile outline.
This art experience allowed the students to acknowledge and challenge the judgements people make about them, judgments they may even internalize within themselves. It also empowered each student to tell their own story, and explore their own unique and complex identity. For me, it was a great reminder that interfaith work is as much about understanding and celebrating ourselves as it is about understanding and celebrating others.
Anneke Kat – Youth & Community Programs Manager & Mosaic Co-Facilitator
Each day of camp was centered around a theme from Interfaith Philadelphia’s Passport to Understanding. The second day’s theme was “venture out” so we dove deeper into exploring the neighborhood around us. A real focus of this day was raising awareness about the wonderful community assets that exist in the South Philadelphia neighborhoods. I asked each student to draft a list of local places which are important to them and their families. Then, we crafted a list of places that are important to the wider community. Each student created their own creative map that highlights these spaces and landmarks from their own perspectives. Everyone was able to share and discuss their map. The activity not only elevated the places that are important to each student and their family, but it also gave them a chance to see the diverse narratives, identities, and variety of places that are important to their peers. Some students learned about places in their own community they weren’t aware of and the significance they hold to others.
Check out highlights from last year's Interfaith Youth Neighborhood Mosaic!