Scores of Howard University students took to the streets and local celebrities lent their support at WHUR 96.3 radio during a 12-hour radiothon to raise money to finance the students’ Alternative Spring Break of helping others in cities across America.
The students raised $25,350 to fund their efforts in Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans and Washington to help children struggling with gangs and gun violence, adults and teens who don’t know how to read and a city still trying to recover from a hurricane.
Beginning at 6 a.m. on March 7, students lined Georgia Avenue and Bryant Street and Bryant and Fourth Street asking for donations. Meanwhile, the radio station invited donors to call in or to donate online at http://www.howard.edu/asb/2010/.
Two of the donors were Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson and his wife, Leslie E. Johnson, both graduates of Howard University School of Law.
“I’m here because I believe everybody should donate some part of their life to serving others,” said Leslie Johnson, who went on air to ask others to follow her example. “Service is part of the legacy at Howard, and if I can lend a hand to their effort, then I’m happy to do that.”
The Rt. Rev. Vashti Murphy McKenzie, the first female bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and national chaplain of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, also stopped by the station to ask others to support the campaign.
Andre Cooper, 21, of Fort Worth, Texas, was one of the many students who collected money.
“I was getting a lot of support,” he said. “It was nice. It’s a nice feeling to ne able to help others, and it felt good to see the people’s willingness to help.”
Vogue Lee-McWilliams, 19, of Atlanta, collected money on Bryant and Fourth streets.
“I was only there for a few minutes before people started giving me money,” said Lee-McWilliams, a marketing major. “The weather is nice, and everybody has their windows down. That makes it easier. As soon as people find out what it’s for, they want to donate.”
This year, nearly 300 Howard students will be working from March 14-19 on youth development in Atlanta and Washington; gun violence in Chicago; literacy in Detroit and environmental concerns in New Orleans.
Monique Rochon, 20, of Bloomfield, Ind., is the site coordinator for New Orleans this year. She volunteered in the city last year, but hopes to make a greater impact in 2010.
“For me, ASB epitomizes striving to make a difference,” said Rochon, who works to plan every aspect of the trip to the Big Easy. “It is a week of service where concepts of social welfare and community outreach are explored through various work projects.”
This year, the more than 80 students going to New Orleans will concentrate on improving the environment. They will plant tress, secure the coastline and clean up the city park. Another 40 students from the School of Law will help the city with its backlog of criminal and civil cases.
San Diego native Christina Smith will be in Chicago this year and remembers the moment she realized the importance of aiding others during spring break rather than sunbathing at the beach back home.
Her moment of revelation came while working with youths in Chicago last year.
“One of the students told me how his aunt owned a store in his neighborhood, but it was too dangerous for him to walk to the store and visit her,” Smith, 20, recalled. “Other kids told us how they had to walk the long way back and forth to school because some areas on the way were too dangerous. And everybody could tell you a story about a friend or someone from their family who had been killed.”
Sheena Hall, 20, of Richmond, Ind., is the site coordinator for Chicago. The former high school prom queen and cheerleader is responsible for housing, feeding the students, coordinating transportation to and from Chicago and planning the week’s activities.?“It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it,” she said. “Last year, 33 public school children were murdered. That’s crazy. We all want to help.”
Hall will be working with the Rev. Michael Louis, an activist Chicago Catholic priest who is known for working a number of causes, including drugs, economic disparities and gun violence.
In Detroit, Denys Symonette will tackle literacy issues, but sees her journey to the Midwest city — which has been hit particularly hard by the recession — as more of a spiritual calling.
“For me, this is part of my spiritual journey, part of my faith as a Christian,” Symonette said.
“If you’re a Christian, you help people.”
Overseeing all of the operations is Erica Jai Lindsay, a Chicago native who also will be site coordinator in Atlanta this year. The nearly 100 students there will be working with the new mayor, Howard alum Kasim Reed, to help clean up the city and to work with youth.
“For all of us, this is personal,” Lindsay, 20, said. “It’s because we care. But it’s also part of the tradition of service at Howard.”