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The Voice of the Black Community


Livingstone lends a hand on Gulf Coast
Volunteers help recovery with cleanup, mentoring
Published Thursday, August 6, 2009 11:39 am
by Laurie Willis, Special To The Charlotte Post

NEW ORLEANS – In a historic trip designed to highlight civic responsibility and activism while rewarding campus leadership, a group of Livingstone College students spent a week in New Orleans repairing homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina, volunteering at a festival honoring the legacy of legendary jazz musician Louis Armstrong, organizing collections in The Southern Food and Beverage Museum and, well, having fun.

Livingstone College senior Anthony Coleman taking surveys at The Ninth Annual Satchmo SummerFest in New Orleans' French Quarter. A contingent of volunteers from the Salisbury school helped refurbish parts of New Orleans and the Gulf coast as part of President Jimmy Jenkins' push for a holistic approach to learning and leadership.

The trip was the brainchild of Livingstone College President Jimmy Jenkins and is reflective of his push for a holistic college approach to learning.

“The students who traveled to New Orleans have demonstrated strong leadership skills or a potential to lead,” President Jenkins said. “The students conducted themselves in an exemplary fashion in New Orleans as they assisted people whose lives were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. They also served as ambassadors for Livingstone by recruiting talented high school students in Mobile, Ala. We expect this trip to be first of many for Livingstone College and its deserving students.”

Two dozen students plus seven members of Livingstone’s faculty and staff left for New Orleans just after midnight on July 29, traveling in a Livingstone bus and recreational vehicle. The students slept during most of the 12-hour drive, though it was clear as they boarded the bus they were excited about the trip and the chance to make a difference. Four other Livingstone students flew in.
While in New Orleans, the Livingstone contingent resided at Dillard University, which, like Livingstone and Johnson C. Smith University, is a member of The United Negro College Fund.

Shortly after arriving the group went on a three-hour tour of the city, conducted by Mary Beth Romig, director of communications and public relations for New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau. Students sadly shook their heads as they saw countless foundations with no homes on them, rows of empty, boarded-up houses and shuttered businesses. In some parts of New Orleans, particularly the Lower Ninth Ward, it looked as if Katrina struck the week before.

“It was a total shock to see a house look so bad, as if it was lifted from its foundation and dropped out of the sky,” said LeCounte Nedab II, a junior religious studies major from Ocean City, Md. “It really made me wonder whether this can this happen to me. I live close to the Atlantic Ocean, so a hurricane could come through and wipe out my family. As we saw the devastation it struck a fire within me to do all I could to help out.”

Nedab and his colleagues spent all day Monday and part of Tuesday painting walls inside a house in the St. Bernard Parish.

Eldridge S. Williams, Livingstone’s coordinator of community services, said giving back has always been important at the college. In fact, students must complete 80 hours of community service before obtaining their degrees.

“I was immensely proud of the tremendous work the students did in New Orleans,” Williams said Tuesday as the Livingstone bus rolled down U.S. 10 East in Louisiana toward Mobile, where Williams graduated Central High School in 1965. “When we were working in houses with no air conditioning or running water, not to mention how hot it was, it would have been easy for the kids to just stop but they didn’t. In true Livingstone fashion, they kept working as hard as they could because they understood the importance of why we were there.”

Throughout the week many people thanked the students for coming to their city to assist its recovery effort. Especially appreciative was Shereka Lewis, a member of Petty AME Zion Church. On Friday, students painted the garage, fixed a door and mowed the grass at Lewis’ home.

“Whether an individual or a group only spends a half day doing volunteer work or an entire week, the difference that they’ve made in this city’s recovery has been phenomenal and can’t even be measured,” said Romig of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. “But when a group is able to give as much time as the students from Livingstone College, they touch many lives across a variety of ways. They helped a cultural institution, an individual homeowner and then they gave of their time for one of the city’s major events. There aren’t many organizations that come into town and give of themselves across so many spectrums, and it’s very inspiring as a local to see that.”

The trip was Jenkins’ brainchild, but Terri L. Stevenson, Livingstone’s director of student activities, pulled it together.

“Through telephone calls and emails, I built relationships with people throughout the City of New Orleans seeking meaningful opportunities for our diverse group of students,” Stevenson said. “It is experiences like this that will affect these young people for a lifetime. We want our students to be productive, caring and committed citizens, and we know this trip will encourage them to become more active socially, politically and environmentally.”

During the week, the kids got a good taste of New Orleans, dining on many of the city’s culinary staples including red beans and rice, jambalaya and shrimp, oysters and roast beef Po-Boys. They also got a chance to jazz it up at the Satchmo SummerFest, where they conducted surveys, helped kids make second-line umbrellas, sold merchandise and worked in the information booth.

Livingstone faculty and staff also did their fair share of work. Joining Stevenson and Williams were Dr. Stanley J. Elliott, Vice President of Student Affairs, campus minister Rev. Darwin D. Little, Carmen C. Wilder, director of alumni affairs/annual giving, and Pastor Troy D. Russell, an admissions counselor/retention specialist.

“I love kids, so I’m very excited about this,” Russell said Saturday while scanning magazines for photos depicting Louisiana culture that the kids could use to decorate their second-line umbrellas. “I think this is a great festival, and the kids are very enthusiastic.”

Eugene Brown, last year’s freshman class president, liked the festival.

“I think it’s great that we get to participate in this,” Brown said. “With Louis Armstrong being a black guy, it’s kind of nice to see all the cultures here today.”

Added Chad Mitchell, president of Livingstone’s Student Government Association: “The festival was full of history and culture, and I’m thankful I was able participate in it. I didn’t know much about Louis Armstrong before the festival but now have a profound appreciation for his music and his legacy.”

Vance A. Vaucresson, who graduated from Morehouse College and remembers competing against Livingstone students in a quiz bowl, was among the vendors at Satchmo SummerFest. Vaucresson is president and CEO of Vaucresson Sausage.

“When you’re a graduate of an HBCU, you’re a little more sensitive to what’s going on with them,” Vaucresson said. “Livingstone College, even though it’s in North Carolina with your larger schools like A&T, has a great reputation. I’m glad to see the students have come down here to participate in this type of endeavor because I think service is something that isn’t stressed enough at HBCUs.”



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