International Festival of Tolerance - My Family Travels

I never thought I would ever go to Prague and I had never even heard of Terezin. “People that grow up here don’t get opportunities like this Jasmine” or “Like they would ever choose someone like you” is all I ever heard when I told people about the festival Of Tolerance in Terezin and about Prague. I thought of myself as being that tall, lanky black girl that is ashamed of being from South Central LA. I thought of myself as being no one in this world and always hiding where I’m from and what I have seen. I hid my thoughts, my views, my writing to myself because I knew no one would want to hear them.

On the day of January 23, 2009 is when I remember being the happiest and proudest day of my life. Seeing my name on that list of 6 out of the 70 that applied made me forget all the worries and insecurities I had and just focus on all the good. I felt like I was someone. I manage to get a scholarship and for the first time in my life everything was falling into place. I remember waking up every day and wondering when something bad was going to happen to where I couldn’t go. I don’t get my passport in time, my mom gets sick again and I can’t go, this was all a huge mistake and they drop me last minute. I just wanted April 17 to come so badly so I could escape all my bad thoughts and finally this all becomes real.

The first few days of the trip, we stayed in Prague. It was my best friend and I and 4 other people I hardly knew from my school. As the trip progressed, I felt myself really connecting with these 5 people all with different backgrounds and finding a true love for the people around me. We became such great friends in only a few days and I felt so in sync with them all. After a few days in Prague, we took a 3 hour bus ride to Terezin, a little city right outside of Prague. I went having absolutely no idea about this place and no idea what the festival was about. All I knew was that my group was the only American group and all the other groups were from places all over Europe. The first thought when we arrived to the festival was “Wow, I am the only black person here and they are probably all going to ask me weird questions and not like me. They probably don’t even like black people” There were about 30 people all together and we started off with an ice breaker and did trust building exercises. We all bonded instantly. I have never in my life thought I have known somebody all my life that I met the first day, let alone 24 times in a row. Over the course of the festival, we learned about Terezin and how it was a concentration camp for artistic Jewish people during the reign of Hitler. We learned about all the pain and the suffering the people went through and saw all the art that was created in this camp. Over the 4 days at the festival we wrote songs, painted and drew pictures, wrote poetry, and just talked about all our experiences and about what we learned here. I shared some of the darkest and also some of the happiest parts of my past with these people and they did the same with me. My mind expanded over the 4 days in Terezin and my views on the world drastically altered. I felt like I was connected to the world on a deeper level and that my thoughts, views and opinions matter just as much as everyone else. Even though the festival ended over 5 months ago, I still talk to my brothers and sisters from the festival and I know I made 30 lifelong friends that I will always remember.

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