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2024 Alternative Spring Break: Howard Students Take Chicago!

Students travelled to Chicago and beyond to volunteer their time in communities across the country

 students travelled to Chicago and beyond to volunteer their time in communities across the country

Staying true to Howard University’s motto of truth and service, students participating in this year’s Alternative Spring Break travelled to different states across the country to offer their Howard University shine to 20 different communities in need.  

With a record number of over 2,100 students committed to service, participants travelled to additional cities such as Cleveland, New Orleans, and Flint, Mich. under a range of initiatives tailored to the communities they serve.  

In the South Side of Chicago, a group of 100 students traded the traditional spring break of relaxation and free time for the opportunity to travel at no personal cost, under the initiative of restorative justice and youth empowerment. 

“For [our youth], seeing people that look like them that are smart and successful, they can say ‘I can do that too,’” said Deborah Boatwright, the Chicago ASB trip advisor for the last 15 years and the operations manager for the Office of the Chapel.  

 “I see us as a way out for these kids. When I see these kids, I see them embracing things that they never even thought that they could do because of how Howard students have given their time to come up here to say, ‘You too can be great.’” 

Chicago has been an original site and frequent location for the program since Alternative Spring Break was created 30 years ago in Spring 1994. Under the leadership of Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel Dean Bernard L. Richardson, the willingness for Chicago leaders to invite Howard students back speaks to the distinctive opportunity the service project gives student volunteers and community members. 

“One of my greatest joys is hearing students over the years share how HUASB has transformed their lives and how they see the world,” Richardson said. 

 During this year’s Chicago trip, students participated in services at schools, community centers, and non-profit organizations to better the Chicago community through a range of activities. 

Howard volunteers worked with My Block My Hood My City, a nonprofit organization that mentors the youth of the community through educational outreach and field trips. The work of this organization doesn’t stop at children–  they strive to serve the whole community through service and collaboration. 

“In August, the Democratic National Convention is going to be in Chicago. We are having a March on Madison right outside the Democratic National Convention, and we just want our voices to be heard,” said Stephen Gilbert, director of youth and community development for My Block My Hood My City.  

“It's not necessarily just the current legislation, 30% of the problem with gun violence is probably legislation, but the other 70% is resources,” Gilbert explains. “Howard students are here today helping us make picket signs. We plan to have 50,000 picket signs. We already have about 17,000 signs and we're going to be out there, and our voices are going to be heard.”  

Howard students making signs for the upcoming March on Madison with members of My Block My Hood My City. Source: Autumn Coleman
Members of the Howard Alumni Association of Chicago provide dinner to current Howard students. Autumn Coleman for The Dig

Members of the Howard Alumni Association of Chicago provide dinner to current Howard students. (Source: Autumn Coleman)

I chose this because I wanted to help the youth and empower people like how I wanted people to empower me in high school.”

ASB's Themes of Youth Empowerment & Restorative Justice Take Form in Chicago

Homicide is the leading cause of death for young African Americans between ages 10-24 and an estimated 50-60% of urban youth are exposed to neighborhood violence, according to the Chicago Center for Youth Violence Protection. For some of Howard’s students, these statistics were their reality growing up, furthering their draw them to Alternative Spring Break’s powerful impact.  

“I come from a place that’s similar to Chicago,” said freshman Tatiana Traore from Macon, Ga.  “Out of my graduating class, probably seven of us went to college and three went to the military...and the rest are high or in jail. Where I’m from, you don’t have the chance to go to college so, for me to go to Howard University on a full ride, it's big for people in my community. I chose this because I wanted to help the youth and empower people how I wanted people to empower me in high school.”  

While in Chicago, students volunteered at a range of places. Those with the most impact were Howard student’s daily visits to various schools around Chicago. Educators throughout the schools described how the Howard volunteers worked to interact, tutor and guide Chicago’s youth. Giving students a chance to experience a taste of college life outside of their community.    

“The benefit of [having Howard students] is huge,” said Marcus Ware, principal of Paul Cuffe STEM Academy which resides in the Southside. “My students actually get to see someone who is not from their neighborhood, someone who looks like them, who is in college, who has desires and plans to be professional and do different things. Now they are wrapping their minds around having this opportunity...and hopefully put more of a desire in them to attend college as well.”   

Students Connect with Chicago

Students worked with after school programs, had dinner at the historic Quinn Chapel AME Church, and conducted community clean-ups with non-profit organizations while in the Windy City. During their down time, students created art with resident artists at the Hyde Park Art Center, crafting collages and taking guided tours of exhibits. 

 At Paul Cuffe and other grade schools like it, Howard students participated in panels to answer students' questions about life and college.  

“I got the chance to talk to high schoolers at this one school and it was really great,” said Clarke Donaldson, a junior from Lawrenceville, Ga. “I was answering their questions about college but also about life. They were so curious and not that much younger than me, so it was nice to be able to help them out and bond with them.” 

Students convene outside their lodging before a full day of volunteering in the community. Source: Autumn Coleman