The following post was written by Bridge Year Fellow Kaitlin Galindo.

I spent my last full day in Chapel Hill laying on the old wooden floors of the Campus Y, my hands caked with layers of black paint. Banners bearing “Black Lives Matter,” “Remove Silent Sam,” and “Violence, Racism, and Hate do not belong on our campuses” sprawled before me. Those banners were hung that evening. They were torn down on the orders of administration within the hour. I knew this would happen. It had already happened twice that day. My labors were fated to be removed, so why was I painting?

I was painting because I want this campus and community that has become my home to be safe. I was painting because in a world of seemingly unsolvable systemic racism, intolerance, and bigotry, making some banners was the action I could take that day. I was painting because the Campus Y and the incredible people in it are my team. This is our fight and I cannot imagine a better last day than in service for my team.

My last weeks in the States have been exhausting. Everyday seems to be accompanied by stories thrusting weight upon already heavy black and brown shoulders. Between “newsworthy” pictures of hateful violence against people who look like me, I find time to read about executive orders threatening my community, my state legislature’s motions to make me less represented, and my university administration’s insistence on maintaining stone scarecrows intended to frighten me away.

I have to be doing something! Right? How can I leave now? There is so much work to be done. I am needed here.

Am I?

A gap year is self-indulgent by definition. My impact on the communities I am privileged to visit will be minimal; isn’t it possible I could do more here? So, what is the point? Why am I doing this?

A gap year is a journey taken for personal growth. It’s time for me to focus on what I want, to figure myself out, and hopefully to return with focus and a renewed sense of purpose in my education and activism. It’s time to broaden perspective, time to rediscover passions, time to be young and in love with everything. It’s breathing room. It’s starting over.

It’s been difficult to reconcile needing and wanting this time for myself and knowing that the people and place I leave behind will struggle on without me.

It is also hard to imagine leaving the comforts of the life I have constructed for myself in Chapel Hill. I came to this place a Virginian transplant knowing absolutely no one and I’ve found a home.

My painting in Chapel Hill is unfinished. My hands are already thick with colors of community and it’s hard to leave a labor so taxing and beautiful mid-stroke.

As I ready myself to set off to Berlin, I am considering what I want out of the next nine months. I want to read great books for no reason except that they’re worth it. I want to dance and serve and meet interesting people that make me believe humanity is “good.” I want thrive in the unexpected and learn to love my independence.

I know Chapel Hill will be here waiting for me. The Movement doesn’t end, and there will always be work to be done. Old friends and new will be here to make memories with during my last two years. I am learning to accept that it is okay to deviate from my thus-far linear path and take this time just for me.

I hope to return a healthy, reenergized, and focused agent of change, friend, teammate, and scholar on this campus. For now, it’s time to put down my brush and find a new place to inspire creation.