Howard Students Return to Chicago to Fight Gun Violence
CHICAGO -- San Diego native Christina Smith remembers vividly when it struck her last year how important it was to be in Chicago for spring break rather than on a beach back home.
“We were talking to the students, and one of them told me how his aunt owned a store in his neighborhood, but it was too dangerous for him to walk to the store and visit her,” Smith, 20, recalled.
“Other kids told us how they had to walk the long way back and forth to school because some areas on the way were too dangerous. And everybody could tell you a story about a friend or someone from their family who had been killed.
“I was really moved. I called my father in San Diego, and he said he had never heard me so passionate about anything before.”
That same passion is on display in Chicago this week as Smith and scores of Howard University students returned to the city March 14 as part of the university’s annual Alternative Spring Break Program.
Those volunteering in Chicago are part of nearly 300 Howard students working from on youth development in Atlanta, educational disparities in Washington, literacy in Detroit and on the environment and other issues in New Orleans.
The students raised more than $25,000 Sunday, March 7, during a 12-hour radiothon with WHUR 96.3 to help fund their efforts.
These students have skipped the beach or the trip back home to help with the problem of gun violence in Chicago, where 33 public school students were murdered last year.
Sheena Hall, 20, of Richmond, Ind., is the site coordinator for Chicago. The former high school prom queen and cheerleader is responsible for housing, feeding the students, providing transportation to Chicago and back and planning the week’s worth of activities.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it,” Hall said. “This is important work for us, but it’s also a chance to serve and a learning experience.”
The students are operating out of Saint Sabina Church, which is headed Father Michael Louis, an activist Chicago Catholic priest who is known for working on a number of causes, including fights against drugs, economic disparities and gun violence.
The students are working on forming social justice clubs at Englewood and South Shore high schools to help the students cope with gangs and gun violence. They will also be canvas neighborhoods in support of a bill in the state legislature that would require stricter rules on the use and sale of handguns.