Rebuilding New Orleans

An Alternative Spring Break to Take Action, Make Change

Most college students spend spring break basking idly in the warm sun of Florida’s most beautiful beaches. Students at Howard University found a slightly more enriching alternative. Instead of taking a week off, more than 250 Howard University students took on the task of helping to rebuild the ravaged city of New Orleans. On March 11, 2006, a six-bus caravan departed from Howard University, carrying commissioned students and chaperones prepared to take action and make change. While in the Crescent City, students worked with Habitat for Humanity and Common Ground Collective, a community-initiated volunteer organization. Throughout the week, most of the students were charged with gutting or removing debris from homes designated as safe to enter by the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA]. Equipped with safety goggles, work boots, protective suits, hard hats and face masks, the students stripped the houses of everything, including walls, insulation, refrigerators and stoves. Students worked on residences in St. Bernard Parish and St. Charles Parish, and in the Houma Nation’s reservation. Still, many students had a pressing desire to work in the Lower Ninth Ward, an area widely neglected by FEMA. “The Ninth Ward looked like a dead situation,” said Teneasha Pierson a senior marketing major from Oakland, Calif. “Houses were separated from their foundations, structures were now piles of wood and lives had been washed away by the flood water. The neighborhood seemed dead.” Spending the last two days in the Lower Ninth Ward was not on the students’ original itinerary, but they felt compelled to return to the devastated community. “It was very important for Howard University students to have a presence in the Lower Ninth Ward,” said Jason Rodriguez, a senior political science major from Chicago. “The place is inhabited by people that look like us, and they want to see people that look like them to help them.” For their laudable efforts, ABC News deemed Howard University’s students “Persons of the Week.” Students told ABC News that they would to return and keep returning to New Orleans until the city was restored. And true to their word, this year students from Howard University are going back to finish what they started. This year, more than 500 students will participate in Howard University’s Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program in an effort entitled “Journey Back to New Orleans: Uplifting Our People Through Service.” “Howard students have not forgotten about the people of New Orleans and the disaster of Hurricane Katrina,” said Debbie Origho, ASB student co-coordinator.”This Alternative Spring Break 2007 provides the opportunity for us to build upon what we envisioned to accomplish last year.”