Instead of Partying, Howard Students Used Their Spring Break to Do Good
For more than 20 years, Howard University students have participated in “Alternative Spring Break.”
For many college students, going home for spring break offers an opportunity to relax on the couch, catch up on sleep, and maybe do laundry. For others, spring break is a chance to party. But for Nnenna Ochuba, a senior at Howard University in Washington D.C., her most recent spring break was imbued with a greater responsibility.
Ochuba was one of the leaders of Howard University’s “Alternative Spring Break” (ASB), a yearly program that sends more than 500 students to 13 communities across the country and around the world to take part in community projects. These programs are aimed at working with communities on issues that range from environmental justice and high school retention to the prison-industrial complex.
Students travel to Haiti to work on rebuilding communities affected by natural disasters, spend time in Chicago creating public art installations in an effort to combat gun violence, and work with high schoolers in Newark to inspire entrepreneurship.
For Ochuba, coming back home to Newark, New Jersey offered an opportunity to give back to the community she grew up in.
“I was sitting in these same classrooms, learning from these same teachers,” she told Global Citizen. “Knowing the struggles that my friends had not graduating from high school is what drew me to this initiative.”
In Newark, high school graduation rates are far lower than they are in the rest of the state. Despite the fact that around 90% of students in the state of New Jersey graduate from high school, the graduation rate in Newark is a mere 70%.
The Howard Alternative Spring break program in Newark focused specifically on high school retention and entrepreneurship.
Group leaders organized a curriculum designed at creating sociopolitical and socioeconomic awareness that dealt with questions of gentrification, job preparedness, and stereotypes that affect the African American community.
For Ochuba, the biggest goal of the program was to inform students that “your situation now doesn’t define where you’re going to end up.”
For black students, the educational system in the United States is in many ways tilted against them. Nationwide, just over 70% of black students graduated from high school in 2012-2013, in comparison with more than 85% of white students, according to a study from the Department of Education.
But this is slowly beginning to change. That’s in part thanks to organizations like Howard University. With a student body that’s over 95% black, it’s one of the premier institutions of higher education serving students of color.
The fact that more than 500 Howard students take time each year to give back to communities of color and people living in poverty around the world is also helping to bridge educational and economic divides.
“Our motto is ‘Truth and Service at Howard,’” Ochuba said. “We say it but enough people don’t walk it.”
But at Alternative Spring Break, “people got a chance to walk the walk,” she said.
You can learn more about Howard University’s Alternative Spring Break, here.