In memory of Donald A. Hill, Jr.
The Howard University Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program just completed its twentieth year of service. Born in the Office of the Dean of the Chapel, this university-wide community service initiative has evolved into a multi-pronged effort that reaches six U.S. cities and a foreign country. In the past week, approximately 350 Howard students volunteered over 15,000 hours to address prevalent social issues in various national and international communities. Literacy, gun violence and public health were just a few of the site themes in 2014. ASB played an integral role in my collegiate development. I served as a team leader in New Orleans during my sophomore year and as a general participant in DC my junior year.
Howard and ASB breed leadership. When I reached my senior year, the natural progression in my ASB journey was to apply for a site coordinator position. I loved my experience in New Orleans, so I designated it as my top choice. I was warned that I could ultimately be selected as the leader of a different site, but I paid little attention to this caveat as I submitted my application. About a week and a half later, I received an offer to serve as the site coordinator of New Orleans. The opportunity humbled me, and I felt as though my story with ASB was about to come full-circle. I attended my first steering committee meeting shortly thereafter; my mind began to race with ideas to enhance the phenomenal program that had been developed in New Orleans.
A week later, I received a call from Greta Foster, the ASB executive student director. She told me to report to the Carnegie Building to discuss a new program development. I approached the meeting with a little apprehension. My initial thoughts wandered to the possibility of my replacement. However, my doubt was assuaged fairly quickly. Greta and I had worked together in numerous capacities on campus. I was proud to serve under her leadership and was confident that she would not terminate me so quickly after my appointment. Before I knew it, I was sitting across from her in a conference room. She calmly stated that only law students would be visiting New Orleans in 2013.
Despite this change, a new opportunity had arisen to lead a group of students to Baltimore for the first time. She offered me the position as we both sat there. I immediately accepted, but my affirmative reply masked a strong sense of reluctance. Planning a new site would be an incredible onus, particularly because I had begun to fix my creative efforts on the New Orleans trip. Nevertheless, my commitment to Greta and the program trumped these doubts; it didn’t take long for me to fully invest myself in the creation of ASB Baltimore.
The next six months constituted the most challenging period of my Howard experience. I quickly learned that securing housing, food and work sites for a group of thirty people would be a formidable task. Even though certain aspects of the trip were confirmed in the fall, many components remained uncertain in the weeks immediately preceding ASB’s departure day. The journey forced me to rely on faith more than I ever had. Once I fully adhered to the belief in the evidence of things not seen, everything came together perfectly. The unwavering support of the program’s leadership team supplemented my faith, and each member provided daily encouragement that helped me complete the task.
When the week finally arrived, I confidently departed for Baltimore with thirty other Howard students. We worked in an alternative high school to help students pass the Maryland state assessment, petitioned for an anti-gang commission in various neighborhoods and completed a restoration project & anti-bullying seminar at a Baltimore-area Boys and Girls Club. Each experience was incredibly fulfilling, but one stood out in particular. As the program approached the middle of the week, we visited the Mondawmin community in west Baltimore to volunteer with Safe Streets. Modeled after programs such as Cure Violence in Chicago, Safe Streets employs previous offenders to identify young, at-risk community members and mentor them.
We began our visit by listening to the powerful stories of the outreach workers, and then we embarked upon a community canvassing effort. We walked around the Mondawmin community chanting, “What do we want? Safe Streets! When do we want them? Now!” The outreach workers continued to share stories as we canvassed and pointed out street corners where their community members had succumbed to violence. The goal of the week’s work manifested itself in the two hours we spent in Mondawmin: to positively impact the community by taking direction from residents who were committed to creating a better environment. The months of difficult preparation translated into an invaluable experience, and the Howard participants were able to witness the significant impact of grassroots community engagement. ASB often characterizes its participants as hope bringers. The collaboration with Safe Streets and reaction of the Mondawmin residents confirmed that this classification is well-deserved, but the experience also showed me how much hope the communities give the Howard participants in return.
In retrospect, serving as the first site coordinator of ASB Baltimore was the zenith of my Howard career. It cultivated a strong passion for service and provided me with critical community outreach skills. Over the past week, I tracked the progress of ASB on social media, and the growth of the Baltimore site amazed me. My successor, Joshua Narcisse, strengthened the partnerships that were established last year and implemented new opportunities for the participants to positively impact Baltimore. ASB Baltimore, along with the other sites, will undoubtedly continue to flourish in the years to come. I offer my highest commendation to the program for completing twenty years of service. ASB, thank you for changing my life and the lives of so many others.
– Andrew Hairston
To see some of the great work completed this year, visit the ASB blog.