Howard University’s Alternative Spring Break Celebrates 25 Years of Service

The Howard University Alternative Spring Break 2017-2018 Steering Committee pose with the Wakanda salute after finishing a meeting in March 2018. Contributed Photo.

Truth and Service is much more than a motto. At Howard University, it is a lifestyle.

A community and service initiative has provided an opportunity for students to build upon the university’s legacy of service for 25 years.

Rev. Dr. Bernard Richardson, Dean of the Andrew Rankin Chapel, founded the Howard University Alternative Spring Break (HUASB) program with an official trip to Lumberton, North Carolina, in 1993.

As the number of HUASB participants increased, Howard saw the trip’s significance and began to support it as a free, university-wide event. The student-led organization grew from 20 people in 1993 to 801 students in 2018.

“The passion to serve has never been greater. Students come into the university wanting to serve and become part of that legacy of service. It’s second nature. They have to do it. They feel called to do it. It’s amazing. We don’t work for a legacy but we create one,” he said.

He continued.

“The greatest moments for me are listening to students after they return and talk about their experiences. When you look back at what students have done over the years and the lives they have touched, it’s just amazing. Some students change their majors and career paths because of this.”

Glenn Vinson, the Associate Dean of Religious and Civic Engagement, explained how the organization reflects Howard’s mantra. Vinson has been involved with HUASB since 2005 but started coordinating the event in 2013.

“I tell our students all the time that we need to look at service through a different lens. We need not to look at service through a lens of privilege but through humility and thankfulness.” said Vinson.

HUASB is much more than what many may think as a week-long getaway. The program uses student’s unique gifts, skills and passion to address issues in predominantly black communities.

The issues are known as initiatives and each corresponds to a site.  In previous years, sites have included Chicago (gang violence), St. Louis (social justice), New Orleans (school-to-prison pipeline) and Baltimore (gun violence).

Due to Hurricane Katrina, a trip to New Orleans in 2005 took HUASB to a national level. News outlets took interest into HUASB.

“I’ll never forget when we went to New Orleans. We went into a restaurant and this lady said ‘oh y’all are from Howard? I thought everybody forgot about us.’. She broke down crying. It’s a different when people see someone like them coming back to help,” said Richardson.

The weeklong event does not come easy. Seven days does not amount to the countless hours the steering committee puts in to see their hard work come to fruition.

Vionna Moore is one of the students that knows too well the sleepless nights that go into HUASB. As this year’s Executive Student Director, she feels the pressure to ensure a well-planned and organized event.  

“This is a lot of pressure especially with it being the 25th year. This is a big milestone. I have to make sure the program gets bigger. I have to make sure we’re constantly moving forward. The pressure is definitely there. It’s not a regular year with ASB, but it’s going. It’s definitely going.”

She continued.

“Sunday night I felt the weight of HUASB fall on me. I was completely stressed out. I was up until two or three in the morning eating McDonald’s and watching TV because I could not sleep. I was so stressed about this [ASB Week] and how it would go. I know that when March comes, it’s going to be a lot of the same thing because you want things to go so well. With those sleepless nights, it comes a lot of bonding and leadership development.”

From guiding and supervising the committee for a number of years, Vinson and Richardson understand that all the effort and dedication put into HUASB is strictly voluntary and praises everyone involved.

“The first thing I want to say is thank you. When I look at the students and what they do in order to make ASB successful and what they have to sacrifice, I’m just in awe. There are so many countless hours and so many selfless people who have given to this project to make it what it is today,” said Vinson.

“The organization and the work that is done behind the scenes is incredible. The students amaze me. I sit back and watch then and I’m like woah. Tremendous passion.  It’s now become a rite of passage for many students,” Richardson said.

Due to the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, the initiatives were changed to hurricane restoration. Sites included Haiti, Puerto Rico, Houston, Belle Glade, Florida and Beaumont, Texas.  

The need to serve everywhere is evident. Hence their motto “We Serve Everywhere.”

Organized by the Office of the Dean of the Chapel, the program implements Howard’s vision to extend a public service role through engagement with local, national and international communities.