During winter break, a group of 13 Denison students traveled to Selma, Ala. They worked on a series of service projects, like the Freedom Foundation’s Random Acts Theatre Company (RATCo), which empowers local children through arts programs.
“My Break Away experience in Selma opened my eyes to what service-learning can be,” says Emma Share ’16 of Ann Arbor, Mich. “These kids opened their hearts to our small group of Denison students. I connected with kids who have grown to be confident, joyful spirits.”
“If that is volunteering,” she concluded, “it has made me realize how the little things in life can make the biggest difference.”
But continuing evidence of segregation was much on the students’ minds after their return to campus.
“Going to Selma was almost as if we took a time machine back to the 1960s. It is evident that the civil rights movement is still unfinished,” says Kristine Mallinson ’15 from Perrysburg, Ohio. She felt a sense of shock regarding a country club that doesn’t allow African-American members and at what she calls blatant segregation in schools.
Anthony Daniels ’16 from Chicago had a similar impression. “We were immersed in a community that still is dealing with issues that I thought that we solved by the end of the Civil Rights Movement,” he said. “I guess I believed that the movement ended segregation.”
While the students were there to help others, they reaped intangible but important benefits themselves.
“I was not really interested in the field of education before, but now I feel very passionate about the subject,” said Daniels.
Under the umbrella of the John W. Alford Center for Service Learning, Break Away sponsored six service trips this winter that stretched across the country and many areas of service. Eighty-four students spent a week assisting in programs from environmental issues at a bird sanctuary in North Carolina, to tutoring students in underserved Chicago schools, to East St. Louis, Ill. for work on education and poverty. Two groups went to Atlanta, one to work on immigration issues and a second to collaborate with a homeless shelter and urban youth programs. In addition, Break Away helped to organize a Habitat for Humanity stint in Durham, N.C.
“Service is an amazing opportunity to humble yourself and really exist among the people you are working with,” said Aminata Kaba’13 from Boston, a three-time veteran of Break Away. “The opportunity to work within these communities has changed my perspective.”