Flashback Friday! UofL's Muhammad Ali Institute Hosts Alternative Spring Break

During the 2019 – 2020 academic year, UofL’s  Muhammad Ali Institute for Peace and Justice partnered closely with Office of Student Involvement. A highlight of this partnership included the collaborative planning of the Engage Lead Serve Board’s Alternative Service Break Program – a co-curricular opportunity for students during the University’s Spring Break in March 2020.  Each year, student co-directors organize a student-led service trip that includes travel to a different state and service-learning opportunities centered around a chosen social justice topic. This year, the students chose a new model to expose UofL students to service opportunities with local grass roots organizations. After a two-month application process organized by ELSB, seven  undergraduate students were selected as well as one graduate student whose research interests aligned with the selected social justice topic. The graduate student, _________,  also served as the trip leader.

The partnership with the Muhammad Ali Institute offered the ELSB student co-directors the opportunity to connect with local organizations dedicated to Urban Agriculture and Food Justice including local practices of cultivating, processing, and distributing food, and the social justice issues that make this process inequitable.  The Institute has a longstanding connection to our local urban agriculture movement after partnering with New Roots and Wesley House in 2010-11 to create a six-week participatory educational program promoting healthy eating for families at Wesley House.  The March 2020 Alternative Spring Break Program included LaJa Hurt (Program Asst. Sr.) who served as a participant/on-site Staff Liaison (a new feature of the Program); Ashleigh Hazley (Asst. Director) who collaborated with the student co-directors and staff in the Office of Student Involvement, planned the daily activities, and provided logistical assistance during the week; and Enid Trucios-Haynes (Director) who provided a “Service for Social Change” Pre-Orientation for the students using the Institute’s SeeRedNow Service for Social Change Toolkit.  We provide below an overview of the program:

Day One: West Louisville Women’s Collaborative and New Roots Food Justice Workshop

The students worked in the Peace Labyrinth created by the West Louisville Women Collaborative (WLWC) where they pulled weeds in order to support the WLWC’s mission to create and sustain artistic, peaceful spaces in Louisville’s West End. The Peace Labyrinth is a walking path created with over 450 pavers painted with inspirational messages from the community. It is designed as a public art project for community building and action in Chickasaw neighborhood.  Following a day of hard work, the students shared a dinner at Sabor Latino, and attended a New Roots Food Justice Workshop where they learned about the services New Roots provides and how to become a shareholder or volunteer. New Roots promotes food justice and has created a thriving network of Fresh Stop Markets offering fresh food in food insecure neighborhoods.

Day Two: Ag in the City and Americana World Community Center

Students began their second day at the People’s Garden with a representative from Ag in the City where they learned about urban farm preparation, gardening, cultivating, greenhouses, plants, herbs, hydroponics, and much more.  The People’s Garden has a large greenhouse space, market gardens, a twenty-member community garden, a fruit orchard, and a children’s educational garden.  It was a peaceful day in the midst of the crisis that was beginning to unfold due to COVID-19.  The students had lunch at The Table – a restaurant designed around the concept that you pay what you can by either paying the full amount of the suggested meal price, paying what you can afford to pay, paying with your time by serving, or paying the full amount plus a little extra to “pay it forward.” Following lunch, the students went to the Americana World Community Center where they received a tour and overview of services followed by work on pruning pear and apple trees.  The Center provides comprehensive education, family support, youth achievement, and career and financial development services to Louisville’s refugee, immigrant, and underserved populations. The students also created a pathway through their Community Garden which is managed by both staff and community members.

Day Three: Common Earth Gardens

On the final day of service, students visited Common Earth Gardens to help with their Incubator Farm Business Training Program.  Common Earth Gardens and the Incubator Farm Program are organized and supported by Catholic Charities of Louisville. The Incubator Farm Program is designed to help new immigrants and refugees to grow and produce vegetables and herbs and spices from their home countries. Once they have successfully grown their produce on the farm and can sell their produce, they are assisted with finding land so that they can start their own farms. Here, the students planted spinach and onions, watered the vegetables, fixed up the greenhouses, and pulled crab grass and weeds. The group ended the Alternative Spring Break with a lunch at Franco’s Restaurant.

Student Reflections:

The students shared their reflections about their Alternative Spring  Break experiences. They were excited to start their own personal gardens or stay connected to a local community garden. Additionally, participants reported feeling connected to one another and excited about the potential for this to become an ongoing service opportunity.  They particularly liked working alongside a Staff Liaison, LaJa Hurt of the Muhammad Ali Institute.

It is important to note that due to weather issues, one day of service was cancelled. The missed day would have included working alongside women at the Healing Place, a nationally-recognized recovery program for men and women, to start a community garden.  The Muhammad Ali Institute hopes to continue this partnership with Engage Lead Serve Board and Office of Student Involvement.