First year Bonner Scholars spent their Spring break in the nation’s capital.
We spent the week visiting various advocate groups, Bonner alums and our senator, Kay Hagan.
On Sunday, Noelle and Jon took the Homelessness Challenge. Under the supervision of folks connected to the National Coalition for the Homeless they lived as homeless residents of Washington DC. Look for an in depth video reflection from them in this blog later. Unlike Greensboro, homelessness is in your face here.
A grassy median, a cardboard box, or a doorway that shields the cold wind, Washington’s homeless population continues to grow while resources and empathy shrink.
We visited Bonner Alum Kristi Matthews Garrett, grassroots organizer for the Legal Clinic for the Homeless. The core of the Legal Clinic’s work, through our Legal Assistance Project, is the representation of individual low- and no-income clients through a network of over 200 volunteer attorneys and legal assistants. The Legal Clinic also works on such wide-ranging issues as the criminalization of homelessness, budget advocacy, and the social service safety net.
Kristi spoke with the first years about her work and how Bonner and Guilford College prepared her to take on the tremendous challenge being an advocate for the homeless in DC.
Later in the week she led the group through exercises that helped them consider ways to advocate once they returned to Guilford. We lunched at the popular, Busboys and Poets, a restaurant and bookstore that focuses on promoting social change and action.
We also met with Guilford and Project Community alum, Christy Atlee. Christie works with Higher Achievement as the Volunteer Outreach Coordinator in the DC Metro area. Higher Achievement closes the opportunity gap during the pivotal middle school years. By leveraging the power of communities, Higher Achievement’s proven model provides a rigorous year-round learning environment, caring role models, and a culture of high expectations, resulting in college-bound scholars with the character, confidence, and skills to succeed. We were thoroughly impressed with the young people we met during our visit to one of the nightly tutor/mentor sessions. The students had a great thirst for knowledge, the mentors were engaged and excited to work with these amazing kids. Our students were especially inspired by the group meeting at the end of the night. Students shared what they learned that night in their groups. Some discussed informal vs formal education while others learn about artist Jackson Pollock and created Pollock style paintings. To end the night students and mentor gave shout out to each other. It was great to see the students supporting each other.
We were cordially invited by President Obama and the First Lady to tour visit the White House. Though the Obamas were not able to meet with us, we enjoyed our visit and learned that Amburee has an affinity for men with assault rifles.
Our visit to the offices of the National Coalition for the Homeless was a moving experience for all of us. The National Coalition for the Homeless is a national network of people who are currently experiencing or who have experienced homelessness, activists and advocates, community-based and faith-based service providers, and others committed to a single mission: To prevent and end homelessness while ensuring the immediate needs of those experiencing homelessness are met and their civil rights protected.
NCH envisions a world where everyone has a safe, decent, affordable and accessible home. They are committed to creating the systemic and attitudinal changes necessary to prevent and end homelessness. They take as their first principle of practice that people who are currently experiencing homelessness or have formerly experienced homelessness must be actively involved in all of our work. Their programs are centered around public education, policy advocacy, and grassroots organizing, and are focused on the issues of housing justice, economic justice, health care justice, and civil rights.
Our long time friend and Executive Director Michael Stoops explained to us what the coalition does as advocates for the homeless, then we heard from three formerly homeless people from NCH’s speaker’s bureau. Too many times we allow ourselves to judge people based on stereotypes, the purpose of the speaker’s bureau is to put a face on homelessness and dispel the many myths and misconceptions about the homeless. The speaker’s stories are inspiring and touching. Our group left with a renewed energy to work on the issues of homelessness in Greensboro.
For us, a visit to DC is not complete without a trip to the National museum of the American Indian. We met with Emil Her Many Horses, he is a board member for Running Strong (We’ll talk more about them later) and is the curator for the exhibit about the Horse Culture of the Plains Indians. Given Bonner’s history with the Crow tribe in Montana, we found this exhibit very interesting and the art work was phenomenal. It was an honor to have Mr. Her Many Horses lead us on a special tour of the exhibit and hear details that most visitors will not hear. Later in the week we visited with Bonner alum Marya Millard at the offices of Running Strong. Running Strong is led by an American Indian Board of Directors that strives to build the capacity of communities, grassroots Indian organizations, families, and individuals to leverage their strengths and solve problems.
Running Strong’s mission is to help American Indian people meet their immediate survival needs – food, water, and shelter – while implementing and supporting programs designed to create opportunities for self-sufficiency and self-esteem.
What’s a visit to DC without a little site seeing. Some of us checked out the new MLK memorial, others got tatoos or toured Georgetown and some of us were just silly. Overall, it was a great trip with great people. Bonner Love