New Orleans Still Struggling to Recover
BSU Students Lend Hand in Rebuilding Efforts
By Clarese Alexander
This year marks the third year since Bowie State University began its Alternative Spring Break to New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, it has been the mission of this trip to serve and uplift people in the communities where devastation still exists. The 20-hour bus ride united Bowie State University students and faculty to champion their efforts to show the importance of volunteering.
The trip to New Orleans came into existence after alumna Chauna Lawson visited the city with some friends in 2006. After experiencing the devastation first hand, she made it her mission the following year, to incorporate this experience into a spring break trip for students to volunteer. With sponsorship from Delta Sigma Theta and the efforts of the Office of the Vice president for Student Affairs, the trip remains very successful. Advisors on the trip included Dr. Travis, Dean Holland, Dr. Briscoe and Darren Swain. Graduate assistants included Devynne Stevenson and Kelechi Anynwu along with board members Andre Davis, Jessica Cooper, Dawarren Nichols, Cheryl Braddy, James Brooks, and Kyle Edwards. Forty-two students attended the trip all together.
Upon arrival in New Orleans, students began to work right away. The Arc of Greater New Orleans was the first stop for volunteering. The Arc is a non-profit organization that provides job opportunities for people with mental disabilities. It is at the Arc where thousands of beads from Mardi Gras and other major events are recycled and then redistributed. Bowie State University students took part in helping sort and stack a plethora of bags that contained beads for recycling. Selected students went as far as visiting schools, which included the Audubon Charter School and the St. Christopher School to pick up beads for recycling.
Dryades YMCA James Singleton Charter School, which host pre-kindergarten to eighth graders, was the next stop in the itinerary. Founded in 1905, the school started out as Dryades Young Men's Colored Association founded on Christian principles by volunteers in the community.
Surrounded by crime, drugs, and poverty, this school has become the beacon of light for members of the community. With the drop-out rate at 60 percent in New Orleans, James Singleton Charter School stresses the importance of education. With free and open enrollment, kids that attend this school come from all over Louisiana. The survival of this school is something to be recognized. Brock revealed that the school was burned down in 2000, but with donations of $5 million, volunteers were able to rebuild. During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the school was spared. Just three blocks away, flooding rose to 8 feet high, but the school was untouched and only suffered wind damage. This was truly a miracle. Brock also shared an interesting story as well. Her grandfather, the Rev. Avery Alexander was a very well-known Louisiana civil rights advocate and politician, who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
While at the school, Bowie State University students were able to interact with the children and encourage them to continue their education. Junior Jaymes Smith expressed, "I enjoyed working with the kids, helping them out with their homework, also just being a mentor on life's problems." Coach Everett Jones was a man who stood out that really catered to the children. He displayed so much energy and passion for his job. When asked how he was able to keep up, he simple said, "(By) finding a way to relate to them and you can reach any child."
On Day Two of volunteering, there was a slight unexpected occurrence they made students realize just how fortunate they should be to live in communities not afflicted with violence on a daily basis. While visiting Journey 4th Ward Fellowship Church for an after- school program, gunshots were fired a couple blocks away next to Drew Elementary School, where BSU students visited last year. According to Assistant Pastor Lloyd Jackson II, incidents like this occur on a daily basis. The shooting took place just as school was being dismissed. This situation made it ever so clear the mission of the students to encourage and uplift those children that probably have encountered more then we could have experienced in lifetime. It wasn't clear if anyone was hurt at the moment, but students were forced to evacuate the area as a precaution. Joining the rest of the students at the Urban League of New Orleans, students helped high school students with their homework assignments as a part of the Urban League's College Prep Program.
Wednesday night seemed to be the highlight of the trip. Students were able to experience the magic of New Orleans during the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade. This experience allowed the students to get the chance to interact because the trip brought together people who would not normally hang out together. Students were exposed to an array of cultures, food, music, and history, making this experience unforgettable.
Day Four entailed a tour of Southern University at New Orleans by Dr. Vincent Johnson. Serving as a professor of management of information systems, athletic advisor, and an alumnus, Johnson revealed the struggle of SUNO to stay functional after Hurricane Katrina. Forty percent of enrollment was lost as a result of the hurricane. Now mostly comprised of trailers on 40 acres of land, the school is described as an evening and weekend facility for older non-traditional students. In January, the school was able to build their one and only resident hall styled apartments. Johnson expressed that so far, $60 million is going to the rebuilding of the campus. BSU's Campus All- Star Team also got the chance to compete with SUNO's team for a scrimmage, and wiped them out three times with triple digit final scores.
On the return trip back to BSU, students were able to visit and have lunch at Tuskegee University. In the tour guide's absence, students were still able to meet and greet the students and go on individual tours. Most students visited the Tuskegee Institute museum (on campus), to learn about the history behind Tuskegee, which is home to the late Booker T. Washington and the late George Washington Carver.
The Alternative Spring Break in New Orleans proved to be yet another unforgettable experience for those that attended. Junior Dawarren Nichols said, "I believe we completed our goals, and that we did a great thing not just for New Orleans but for ourselves, as growing individuals." This trip opened the eyes of many and inspired students to not take their education for granted because it would be disadvantageous to all the youth.