Coming from Istanbul, I was only allowed to bring 25kg worth of stuff. I just brought clothes and maybe a few pictures.
Fast-forward 3 years I’ve graduated, moved off campus, got myself a car, and am currently packing up the last box before I drive for 7.5 hours. Today, I am moving to Nashville, Tn. Today, I am finally leaving Lynchburg after working and studying in this city for three years.
If you asked me how I felt about Lynchburg two years ago I would’ve told you I hated it. That this city has nothing to offer a graphic designer like me. And to an extent some of that is still true.
Lynchburg is now a special place to me because before it I was boy and now leaving I realize I've become a man. Some days I’d drink wine and eat at El Jefe, some days I’d add a little bit of apple juice to my water to save what I had left cause #poor. It’s where I learned how to love someone and understand the struggles of the marginalized.
This little city is also where I went on my first real date with a girl. It’s where I went on my first real date with a boy. I questioned my beliefs, I wrestled with the concept of hell, I dropped all hopes of being involved in worship and music, and I picked up sketchbooks and erasers to embark on a journey that I had never even considered.
I experienced a lot pain, a lot of growth, a whole lot of bullshit that I learned to ignore, but in the end I think I’ve come out stronger and hopefully encouraged people to progress in peace and love.
Although I can continue to be cynical towards an institution that treated me as lesser due to my sexual orientation, I am still thankful for the relationships I’ve had with faculty and staff that have helped me, at times, forget about the discrimination that I experienced. If it wasn’t for them I probably would have left. Probably would be healthier.
I know my right to complain is basically non-existent because I didn’t have to pay for school, but I think the opinions and experiences I have are valid and relatable for many of us who have been pushed to the sidelines because we think differently or even struggle to fully grasp the standards they have. But that’s also the beauty of Lynchburg. The outcasts and the those who don’t fit the mold also tend to have the most beautiful heart and I’m so thankful that this summer has given me the opportunity to meet those individuals.
I’ve grown because of Lynchburg, not because of Liberty. Lynchburg was where I ran when Liberty hurt me the most and the locals know what it’s like to be crushed, so they took me in. They don’t question why I do what I do. They don’t seek me out to humiliate me. They love me despite the fact I have nothing to offer them.
So this is my list of places for you so that you can see Lynchburg the way that I did and by doing so maybe will be able to breathe a little bit.
When I first came to Liberty I was desperate for a job. My parents supported me as much as they could, but they didn’t make enough to keep me going for too long. So freshman year I just went at it. I applied for countless jobs and eventually, through a friend’s recommendation, was able to work as a tutor at an after-school (daycare) program called Jubilee. Jubilee is rough, but Jubilee is what the city needs. This little center sits on Florida Ave and everyday between 3-4PM kids would get off the bus and run to the door to sign themselves in. I’d spend 30 minutes with each kid making sure they had their homework completed and that they were prepared for the next school day. Everyday was different, everyday required a certain amount of energy from the kids and patience from me, but everyday was fulfilling.
I love my coworkers and they have welcomed me so warmly. Some of them were education majors, but a lot of them like myself were unqualified to help these kids. A few of my coworkers truly loved and cared for the kids and I think if it was not for them I wouldn’t have been able to continue on working there under the pressure of school and just everything else. But they did it, so could I. Bri, Logan, Taylor, Lilia, and Skylar were really the only reasons why I came back to work. They’re the only reasons why I didn’t become lazy. It was a dynamic that at times did not always work at its maximum potential, but it was one that made sure that the kids were loved. We had a boss that made sure he was known as the boss, but we all know he loved us and cut us all slack here and there. I owe Jubilee a lot.
Jubilee continues to run due to the overflowing amount of generous donations giving kids the education and attention that their parents are unable to give them due to work and other situations. The kids love seeing new faces. They love talking about their day and just expressing their passions to anyone and everyone that comes through. It’s a great place for CSER, but it’s also a great place to learn of how the city of Lynchburg still continues to grow with what little they have.
My third and last year was hard. I was in a place where the academic pressure was starting to cause cracks and so I needed another job to balance things out. I tried retail, but Old Navy just wasn’t for me. So after a month I put in my two week’s notice and started working at Good Karma Tea Co on Rivermont Ave.
I am a huge tea fan. Unlike coffee, tea makes me feel fresh, helps me sleep, and overall just tastes better. Lindsey and Cameo were gracious enough to hire and train me quickly before their holiday trip, and it was a life saver. At times I wasn’t the best at my job, but I loved it so much that I tried my best and every shift was rejuvenating.
It was there I learned to love myself the most. I learned what it meant to be in a healing environment and to be accepted as just human with no imposed expectations. Lindsey and Cameo ran their business like a family and treated every customer like family. Once they let me take home leftovers and in return I gave them essential oils. A sort of cultural back and forth that I rarely experienced in the States. It felt like home.
I had a lot of great conversations with Lindsey and she has taught me a lot and for that I will be forever grateful. I was only there for a couple months, but I left a healthier person.
Good Karma is a safe space for all people to come and relax. The second I open the door to the store and hear the bells chime I know I’m safe. And if you’re looking for a place just take a breath and be present, Good Karma is truly the place to be.
I suggest getting the Annie’s Garden (16oz leave a generous tip)
Across the river
Back home I had my own secret place. It was by the waterside not too far from the boats. I’d sit and listen to the waves crash and allow myself to relax and release any sort of pain or anxiety that I may have been holding on to.
It took 2 years to find a place like that in Lynchburg, but to me it’s even better.
The James River has two parks, one on the city side and one across. Most people when driving don’t recognize that there’s a park there, or they do and just ignore it. There isn’t much to this park. The trail only goes a half mile and then leads to a dead end. There’s a playground that’s trashed with bottles and napkins. But there are benches that overlook the river and give you a view of the whole city. With the trees hiding the benches it’s like I can see everyone, but no one can see me. And it’s there that I spent a lot of my time thinking, crying, hoping, and forgiving.
I’d run away to this special spot when I wanted to be alone
Lynchburg is small. So naturally I expected that art scene to be pretty small, but you’d be surprised.
I applied to intern at Riverviews Artspace because I was desperate. I needed to get out of Liberty and so I looked for the most “secular” place I could work and thankfully after being rejected by Randolph College and Lynchburg College, I was accepted to be the new art space intern.
The Artspace really doesn't care about your opinion. This is where art is art and the people who work there are passionate about it. My supervisors were so cool and loved to get coffee in the morning and include me while they smoked and played Pokemon Go. They understood that I was hurt by many people, but they loved me and gave me space to be myself.
My boss was a German woman who was fighting to keep the arts alive and she is doing an amazing job. My supervisors were women who did everything and overall it was just a beautiful time to be around such empowered women who did their jobs to the best of their abilities.
The Artspace has many levels to it, there’s the main gallery, but most people don’t know that there are two more galleries. The emerging artists gallery is past the double doors, whilst the collaborative gallery is downstairs. All open Tuesday-Friday 12-5pm. Every First Friday they have a bar (which I A LIBERTY STUDENT got to serve from). This allows you to be fancy and hold a cup of wine whilst waving your arms and talking about abstract art.
Randolph College is gorgeous and if you haven’t been, you definitely should. I know a majority of those reading this post will be Liberty students, and the thought of going to Randolph College is not that appealing, but just go.
Don’t go if you have a Liberty decal because they will stare.
Randolph College is just a clash of modern and old and it feels like a hip Hogwarts with a beautiful track and art museum that sits on its own little hill.
It’s right next to Rivermont Pizza and Good Karma Tea so why not just go. Escaping Liberty is a must at some point and Randolph College has always been a great place to read or take my blind cat Merlin on a walk.
The Proud Church
So I’m gay. I’m also a Christian. I know that’s a concept that is hard to grasp for some people, but if you need a place where you need love and comfort this is it.
First Christian Church on Rivermont Ave is a beautiful church that is all about love and 100000% against hate.
Rev. Cowgill is amazing! She preaches some of the best sermons and truly cares and knows everyone by name. She reiterates everyday that First Christian is a safe and loving place and I’ve always felt embraced.
They’re a little different from what Liberty students may be used to. There’s an organ and there’s a choir, we sing out of hymn books, and read things in unison. It was definitely a different experience for me.
Nonetheless, like I’ve said so many times, they love to love and want to make sure every person feels safe.
They meet every Sunday and during the school year they host Soul Food Sundays which is just another way of saying they serve lunch. Definitely a life saver if you live off campus and aren’t the best at meal planning.
Thank you to Lynchburg for being incredibly nice to me. Thank you to all my friends, I wish I could write long paragraphs for each one of you guys, but I have to drive 7.5 hours to my new home.