Published April 1, 2016
UB students went on an educational alternative spring break to Selma, Alabama. They returned with a new perspective of the world, and of themselves.
The Something New organization, formerly known as the Freedom Foundation, hosts a one-of-a-kind civil rights- and social justice-themed alternative break experience designed to challenge and inspire participants.
In the course of a week, students take part in community service activities and learn about the history Selma holds. The trip was co-sponsored by the UB Intercultural and Diversity Center and the Office of Student Engagement.
Group activities during the trip included a visit to the Edmund Pettus Bridge where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led the march for voting rights for African Americans from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama; the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute; the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church where King served as pastor; and the Rosa Parks Institute.
On the first day, Kelly Camacho, a junior environmental studies major, began to reconsider attending the trip after learning about and witnessing the racism that still occurs in the South.
“Being a Hispanic woman, I thought the trip was going to be the biggest mistake of my life,” Camacho says.
“We were warned that people would know we were outsiders because our group was diverse,” she says.
As the week went on, however, Camacho found her fears slowly diminishing after meeting and spending time with the people of Something New.
“By my second day, I knew Selma was where I was meant to be,” Camacho says. “I even applied for their summer internship because I need to go back.”
The students took part in social justice and nonviolence conflict management training. They discussed eliminating social stereotypes, liberating oneself from society’s expectations and techniques for dealing with conflict in everyday situations through self-expression and dance.
Camacho and fellow students volunteered at elementary schools, including Knox Elementary School, as an act of community service. They spent time with young kids and assisted them with school activities.
“I spend most of my day working with a special needs student,” Camacho says. “He was an outsider. When I had to leave, he started crying really hard. I had no idea that I could affect someone so much simply by spending a few hours with them.”
Camacho left Knox Elementary School reevaluating her career goals.
“This experience really made me want to go into teaching because I want to help show kids that they are all special,” she says. “Too many children, like my student, go unnoticed and unassisted.”
Learning about Selma’s past and present struggles of racial inequality, high crime rates and poverty, students underwent a life-changing experience. Their time taught them more than just historical facts and events.
“We processed and reflected upon our observations, feelings and experiences throughout our week,” says Danielle Johnson, a co-adviser of the trip.
“The Something New organization was incredibly welcoming and generous. They helped us learn so much about ourselves and our purpose in this life,” adds Johnson, an academic adviser/program coordinator with the Daniel Acker Scholars Program.
“There is not a group of people who have ever been more open with me than the people in Selma,” Camacho says. “There is no small talk with these amazing volunteers. It’s always talk of things that matter.”
“I’ve grown more this week than I have in years. I was given a new perspective,” says Michael Venturiello, a trip co-adviser and student programming coordinator in the Intercultural and Diversity Center.
The group activities and conversations amongst the students helped them build a close bond as they reflected and shared their thoughts at the end of the day.
“Everyone we met felt like family,” Camacho says. “Each of us went on an emotional journey and almost every night ended in a discussion about our experiences that lasted for hours. There was so much to take in.”
“On this trip, I met some of the best people in my entire life,” Venturiello says. “I connected with like-minded individuals. By the end of the week, we were all able to say that we loved each other and genuinely meant it.”
Those who attended the trip lived a unique experience that won’t easily be forgotten.
“Being there really made me want to continue to help the community to make a change,” Camacho says.
“I found a home in Selma. I found a community of people who felt mutually supported, cared for and loved.” Venturiello says.
“It was life-changing in so many different ways,” Johnson says. “Without a doubt, each one of us left pieces of our hearts in Selma, Alabama.”
I am the trainer who took these students through our nonviolent workshop. I must say they represented UB extremely well. They were by far a highlight for our organization at Something New.
I personally have committed my life to raise the level of human conscience to one of love and true community. My mission is to leave the world much better for the next generation. I have seen through our alternative break program New Alternative that there are students across the world that are committed to doing the same by learning how to walk together in harmony.
UB, I applaud your staff and your students for the courage to step into their roles as "Change Agents". #Newway #Stickwithlove #Loveinaction