Washington, D.C. LVCer Katie Kovacovich is serving at Brainfood as one of their Program Associate. She is a lead teacher for after- school programming for D.C. high schoolers, where food and cooking are used as a tool for youth development. At her placement, Katie facilitates classes for about 50 students each week during the school year and manages teams of volunteers for each class.
Considering how serving with Brainfood has challenged her preconceived notions and fostered personal growth, Katie said the following: “I feel that my most prominent points of growth have been in my understanding of race and culture. And not just in a textbook or touristy sort of appreciation way, but a very tangible, thought-altering, humbling understanding.”
Journey Through LVC
Katie describes her hometown as “an incredibly homogeneous and white Midwestern area,” and admits that she and wasn’t exposed to a lot of culture outside of her own. “I didn’t realize most of the shortcomings and problems surrounding the cultural dynamics growing up, but now in retrospect, I am deeply bothered by things that I think should have been integrated or modeled differently in my education, specifically in regards to the large Native American population in and around my hometown, which has huge historical and cultural impacts on the area” she says. “Going into this year I knew I that a majority of the students I would be teaching would not look like me or come from the same cultural background. Indeed, the majority of my students identify as students of color or bi-racial, and most of them have never been to the Midwest…Throughout the fall and winter I came to terms with a lot of my own prejudice, stereotypes, and misunderstandings; many of which I didn’t really know existed or needed to be altered. It has been an extraordinarily powerful journey, and has changed the way I think of my place in this world, other groups of people, and also the way that I relate to people back home.”
However, I won’t pretend that I didn’t initially fall subject to some of the narratives that I have been surrounded with most of my life. These narratives have been greatly challenged this year, and I’ve come face-to-face with many of my own demons I wanted to deny existed. My students are reflective of all that D.C. has to offer; they are smart, funny, opinionated, loud, shy, focused, unfocused, emotional, closed-off, wealthy, humble, learners, poor, kind, blunt, bored, capable, loved, traumatized, vulnerable, excited, driven, and virtually any other category you could think of. And why shouldn’t they be?”
What Has This Year Taught Her?
The first thing she notes is that, “we have a huge issue of systemic racism in this country. In many cases it is very covert and unintentional, but therein I find the depth of the struggle– to unravel centuries of oppression and white supremacy, while still wearing the mask of not being a part of the problem. It has not been easy, but coming to terms with it has been crucial in my goals of working towards positive, constructive change.”
Katie realized that while building relationships with those who look different from her, she, “needed to be pushed into a space where I am the minority, and know what it’s like to feel that discomfort, in addition to recognizing my positions of privilege and power. While I have had to continually be aware of my position as a white, authority figure in the Brainfood kitchen, I can easily say that my students have taught me more than I could ever expect to teach them. It’s been humbling to say the least, and really pushed me to challenge the problematic and harmful narratives that I encounter.”
Katie is a graduate of Luther College and is from Bemidji, Minnesota. She lives in Emmaus House.