By Erin Polley, AFSC Indiana Peacebuilding Program
Twelve students from Earlham College participated in the Alternative Spring Break program organized by the Indiana Peacebuilding Program this year. Through a collaboration with AFSC's Youth Undoing Institutional Racism (YUIR) program in St. Louis, directed by Joshua Saleem, the students had the opportunity to build a common analysis around institutional racism, connect with activists on campuses and in the community and provide service to a few of the community gardens the St. Louis program connects with.
I have been lucky to have the opportunity to connect with Earlham students through this program for many years. The group this year seemed particularly special. They were a mix of international students from many parts of the world and across the United States. They each brought a unique perspective to the conversation about systems of oppression and a strong interest in understanding the particular history of civil rights and resistance in St. Louis.
“I learned about the ingrained racism present in many of the systems we rely on to keep our society functioning,” said one student. “This clearly showed me why institutionalized racism is continually perpetuated through time. I found it interesting to learn first-hand accounts of protests and suffered injustices while also learning about some of the actions being taken to start fighting the racism that is still very present in St. Louis.”
We shared many “literacy moments” together, learning the history of Ferguson and the uprising that occurred after the killing of Mike Brown. We asked each other difficult questions about race, power and privilege in America. We got our hands dirty working in community gardens that not only provide food to local communities, but also a space for communities to connect with one another. We shared reflections of what we were learning over home-cooked curries, boba tea and in the small moments in between our busy schedule.
“Yes, as cheesy as it sounds, I feel 'woke,'“ said one student. “I feel like I have become more self-aware and I am able to figure out what my role as an activist for social justice is.”
Said another, "It made me realize that I can create change and that everyone has power!”