Local news headlines in Detroit, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New Orleans, La., featured the work of Howard University students striving to make a difference by exchanging the carefree luxuries of spring break for an alternative.
Alternative spring break participants were greeted by a round of applause and words from Dr. Paula Whetsel-Ribeau, the coordinator of ASB and wife of Howard president Sidney A. Ribeau.
Student coordinator Gerald Ashby believes the trips were very effective, providing a unique experience for the participants. Overall, the coordinators were able to walk away with the knowledge that their goal was accomplished.
“I feel as though, from some of the stories that I heard, every person had a unique experience that was life-changing for them. We understand that people participate for selfish reasons, but along the way people become affected by service and the power of service because they are so vulnerable to the process,” Ashby said. “This makes Howard’s legacy a living legacy and not something that we are trying to obtain and grasp.”
Swept away by the storm is the story Monique Rochon, a junior advertising major, heard during her visit to the Lower Ninth Ward.
After seeing the place where the levies were compromised and rebuilt after Katrina and the patches in them that represented the leaks the new levies could not sustain when Hurricane Ike and Hurricane Gustav hit the city, Rochon decided to visit the families residing in the area.
She found a family of two young girls who saw their sister swept away by the storm, as their grandfather attempted to push them all on to the roof for their safety. Yet, it was the spirit of the girls that touched Rochon, as she realized the strength in life because these girls were laughing and loving the moments they have.
“I honestly feel as though this trip has made me more humble as a person than I was before,” Rochon said.
She spent her time in New Orleans working with the Disaster Accountability Project (DAP) to ensure these girls would not have to wait three days again for the government to decide to care about their condition.
With the project, headed by Ben Smilowitz, the students attracted media attention at Tulane University, where they worked to lobby the White House to make the FEMA administrator a cabinet-level position. By making this move, the administrator will report directly to President Barack Obama.
Students from Howard’s School of Law, School of Social Work and School of Business, along with undergraduate students joined in a coalition to bring social service to the city with the objective of one day achieving social justice.
In Chicago, Howard University students made a push for change in an alternative way.
Twenty-nine body bags were piled in front of the office door of U.S. Rep. Annazette Collins (D-Ill.).
As a result of gun violence, 29 students were killed in Chicago this year. The body bags filled with sand represented the victims violence plaguing the city of Chicago.
The decision to place the bags, made by Howard University students, was based upon Collins’ vote against HB-48 in the House of Representatives. HB-48 would require a universal background check on people who purchase guns.
The West Side of Chicago is one of the most crime-stricken areas of Chicago, where Collins is a representative.
Forty-one students ventured to the Motor City to work to improve low graduation rates and literacy. Isaac Bell, a freshman music business major, felt as though he impacted the lives of the young Highland Park Community High School students in Highland Park, Mich.
“I had to keep it completely honest with them. So instead of boring them with facts and empty quotes, I told them my story,” said Bell. As a member of the HU Showtime Marching Band, he was able to share his musical talent and knowledge.
Bell said his favorite memories were of mentoring one of the students. The student is a senior with high hopes of attending Howard University, but because he was never encouraged to attend college, he felt as though his goal was unattainable.
Bell and other participants spoke with the admissions administrators, obtained the application materials and even helped him write his essay.
“He stood up, shoulders back and recited his essay. But the best part was that he didn’t fake it; every word he read was from his heart. That was my favorite moment; I know it sounds cliche, but I was almost brought to tears,” Bell said.
For Howard students, interaction with the homeless is an almost daily occurrence. As an ASB participant, Brandon Harris, a freshman political science major, was confronted with the issue of how he can make a difference for the homeless people on the streets.
“What is important is what you do after alternative spring break,” Harris said. “As a Howard student, it is my duty to give back to my community.”
While Harris understands the importance of having a week of service in poverty-stricken communities, he believes the real effect is the desire to do this type of service year-round.
He said that “you have to do what is required,” an attitude he developed after finding himself constructing a work space for Community Life, an organization focused on training homeless Americans for jobs.
Although he was initially disappointed with the little interaction he was having with the community members, Harris realized that every step counts and patience is needed to make a difference. He said that at the end of the day, their work is saving the organization thousands of dollars on rental space and allowing them to allocate more money to their efforts. In a week, he realized the importance of service that will last him a lifetime.
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