When I was in my freshman year at Central my 2013 LAS cohort and I all went to Detroit to volunteer for a local nonprofit for the weekend. I loved the experience that I had so this year I decided I was going to be apart of the “LAS in the D” LEAD Team the the 2015-2016 academic school year. The LEAD Team is very small group made up of 4 to 5 students from each years cohort that are currently in their undergraduate degree at Central. It is overseen by our advisers Dan Gaken and Jesi Ekonen to help with any difficulties we may be faced with. The LEAD Team meets approximately once a month to discus fundraising for the trip and the trip criteria. The trip is scheduled to be in April and we will be staying in Detroit at the local CMU extension office in downtown.
Being apart of this LEAD Team allows me to organize and set up what the freshman LAS cohort will be doing on their trip to Detroit. It ranges from where they will be volunteering that day to where they will be eating and sleeping later that night. I wanted to be apart of this team because I wanted to plan the trip to Detroit for the freshman so that they had as great of an experience as I did when I went to Detroit. I also love volunteering to help better the community, so why not volunteer for a local nonprofit organization in Detroit!
After getting about two hours of sleep we were all up bright and early to go and volunteer for the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative. When we showed up to the first sight we were told this was where the LAS cohort from last year volunteered and that we would be heading somewhere else to volunteer this time. So we headed deeper into the heart of Detroit and when we got to the place where we were going to be volunteering it was a sight I was not use to seeing. Some houses were being torn apart, some looked like they were lit on fire, and others looked like no one had lived their for awhile. The house that we were going to work on though was under construction and being ripped down to its original structure.
Tyson, the guy that was the head of the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative, handed out jobs to my cohort. Some were told to pick up trash around the block, some were told to help inside the house, some were told to haul trash bags full of plaster to the side to the streets for mass pick up day on Tuesday, and others were told to burn the pieces of wood that were in the trash bags. I was one of the people who were given the job of cleaning up inside the house. When we got into the house we were told to put on white cloth suits, breathing masks, and eye protection so that we wouldn’t get hurt or breathe any dust particles. We were then told to go upstairs and pick up and separate the plaster, insulation, and wood pieces. The plaster and insulation were to be put in garbage bags and the wood pieces were to be put in plastic containers. After we got done with upstairs we hauled the materials downstairs and into the street were the other LAS students were putting the bags on the side of the streets and the wood in the fire. When we got outside though a police officer had shown up and asked were the supervisor was. Tyson came out and talked to the officer and after a couple of fire trucks and hazardous waste trucks later the whole situation was cleared and we got back to work. Tyson then told us we had to separate the garbage bags that were on the side of the streets into bigger sections and smaller piles. By the time we got done separating the bags it was time for a quick picture and then time to hit the road back to Mt. Pleasant.
This experience taught me a lot about who I am and how other people might have a harder time then me in life. I realized that people in Detroit jump to conclusions before they actually know what is going on because so much hatred and crime has happened that not very often a glimpse of light shows through the cracks in the sidewalks. I also learned that when leading a group there is plenty of factors that can contribute to a good or bad experience and in an instant things can go from good to bad and bad to good. Something that I am going to definitely take away from this service trip is that you can change a lot in only a few hours. You can clean a yard with mounds of trash and a house full of plaster and pieces of wood to a clean yard and house in a matter of hours. Just imagine what a group of people can do to a block in a week. Changing communities by helping them clean up will always be a inspiration to me.
The experience I received from this service trip was not only eye opening, but also a reminder that there are other people in this world that have it harder than me. I am so happy to have been able to share this experience with my LAS cohort because together we changed other peoples lives while also changing each others.
I never heard of the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy before. I never knew what they taught their students or how their students school schedule worked, until now. I found out that the students go seven days a week for seven hours a day. I found out that their teachers and faculty don’t put up with horse play and are very strict in order to keep the school running smoothly. This year the faculty decided to create a PILOT program, almost like a honor roll class, for a certain amount of Juniors that showed excellence both in and out of the classroom and displayed leadership to the other people around them. We meet with the students of the PILOT program to teach them more about leadership and how they can teach it to others simply by creating an initiative that has a few activities, lays out what leadership means, and what each group wants to accomplish through experience. I was group yellow and we started off by playing an activity called the noodle game which gets the group to interact and learn the names of the people in the group. After that we were more familiar with each other, so we moved on to the next activity which was coming up with what leadership meant to the PILOT program students and what their goals were to get out of our time together. The last activity we did for the day as a group was called gutter ball. This activity was designed to help a group interact even more while also learning on how to build relationships and teamwork within a group. After the activity we said goodbye to the PILOT program students as they went with Jesi and Dan to learn about how they personally can do an initiative. After Jesi and Dan got done meeting with the students we got to talk with the co-principle of the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy and ask him some questions about how a typical day goes or how his journey to this position came true.
This experience to me was amazing. The co-principle was a Stanford graduate who could have went anywhere in the world he wanted to, but he decided to come to a city that has had a lot of hard times and build an academy from the ground up. He has put his heart and soul into this school and would do anything for the students of Jalen Rose Leadership Academy. He has worked so hard for the academy and it definitely shows. Everyone wasn’t on board at first, but after they noticed that it can be done and will be done they jumped on board and went along with it. What I am definitely going to take away this experience is that if you put your heart and soul into something you truly love, then nothing will ever stop you from reaching your ultimate goal in life.
In class Wednesday, March 26, 2014 we talked about the service trip most of my Leader Advancement cohort are going on this weekend in Detroit. We talked about what we are going to do and how everything is going to go. We talked about who is going to facilitate at the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy. We talked about what questions we had about the trip like, “What are you hoping to gain from this trip, or what are you afraid of when we go to Detroit?” There was one thing though that we did that stuck out to me the most. It was when Jesi showed us a video called Hiding in Plain Sight: The Walls That Divide Us.
The video talked about how decades of housing inequality in Detroit has lead to many problems. This video really hit home because I don’t come from a huge place like Detroit, I come from a small town of about 200 people, but my mom grew up in Detroit and I have family that live in the InterCitys around Detroit, so I have been there and know what it looks like and what goes on there. It is heartbreaking that almost 150 years ago African American people were set free from the chains of slavery, but were still discriminated against after given their freedom. African American’s are still discriminated against today. It might not be in plain view, but it is out there where everyone looks past and doesn’t realize it is right in front of them. In the video it talks about the wall being a physical barrier between African American’s and Whites and that African American’s couldn’t live on both sides of the wall. Today though African American’s can live on both sides of the wall, but all of the whites moved to the other side of the county line called 8 Mile Road. Even though there isn’t a physical barrier in plain sight along 8 Mile Road, there is a psychological barrier separating Whites and African American’s. I want there to be a way that people can view themselves as equals, but I don’t think it will ever happen. The invisible chains of discrimination will always be there holding people back from actually viewing each other as equals.