Andrew Plisner is a volunteer at the Boggs Center. Here he writes about his experiences working with a group of “Alternative Spring Break” students from University of Michigan.
University of Michigan “Alternative Spring Break” Students
By Andrew Plisner
Mar. 10, 2009
During mid-March, I was pleasantly surprised to stumble across a group of University of Michigan students who had opted not to partake in amnesia-inducing activities during their week-long spring break, but rather come to Detroit to learn about a transforming city, transforming themselves in the process.
As a volunteer in Detroit Public Schools, I had a “spring break” as well as DPS enjoyed its late-winter break. In addition to catching up on work at the Boggs Center and for Detroit City of Hope, I promised Mike Wimberley at Friends of Detroit that I would volunteer with him for a couple of days during the week. Upon entering the social venue in the Club Technology building, the U of M group–members of an organization called Alternative Spring Break–and I exchanged ambiguous glances, trying to somehow affiliate one another with some place or space. Mike briefly explained who the group was and ran off, taking care of one of the many responsibilities needing resolving.
While normally I am rather reticent and reserved, I made no hesitation in jumping right in, asking who everyone was and what their plans were. They explained their group, which, as the name indicates, plans alternative spring break trips collaboratively with non-profits rather than go to a traditional location such as Cancun or Miami. The group in turn asked about my status–what group I was with, whether or not I lived in Detroit, what kind of work I did. I proudly–and probably long-windedly–discussed the many positive organizations currently working towards creating alternative futures and relationships in Detroit, and having the opportunity to be involved with some of them. I explained the work of Grace and Jimmy Boggs and the nature of the Boggs Center, and introduced a few of my goals and endeavors. I subsequently asked everyone to introduce themselves individually–their names, where they grew up, what brought them to Detroit and what their interests were. This gave me an incredible opportunity to hear what type of passions stimulated their desire to pursue an alternative spring break, and what they believe the future held for them. The dialogue was really incredible. I felt rewarded by hearing about their experiences in Detroit–which were much different than they had anticipated–and by having the opportunity to offer a bit of feedback about those experiences and how they may shape future decisions.
After our dialogue, I went with a few members of the group to distribute fliers around the Hope District. To my delight, the students illustrated no apprehension about knocking on the doors loudly in an effort to raise awareness of happenings at Friends of Detroit. In several instances, a pair of students would be welcomed into homes and not return for fifteen or even thirty minutes, during which time they shared their stories and listened to stories being shared in return. Their eagerness to learn and inform was as sincere as any other seasoned organizer’s.
By the time Friday afternoon arrived and it was time for the students to return to Ann Arbor, sentiments rang loud as the group collectively expressed their desire to return to Detroit to work with Mike; their commitment to further develop their relationships with the members of the community with whom they had been working and interacting; and their interest in continuing to learn and grow as activists and as responsible, conscious members of any community. These sentiments were reciprocated by everyone at Friends of Detroit–staff and denizens–who felt both incredible gratitude for their level of sacrifice and commitment, and sadness in having to (temporarily) sever ties with the students. It was remarkable to see this exchange and explicitly witness the growth of such strong relationships over a short duration.
I realized after their departure that Detroit is indeed a city of hope. We are, of course, all responsible to ourselves and each other for making the necessary paradigmatic shift in realizing a more humane way of living. However, this shift is not something that can simply be espoused, read about, and emulated. Rather, it must result from an innate desire to be a better human being, from the love that we all have the ability to conjure. The students and the community taught me that we all have the capacity, it is simply a matter opening ourselves to the possibility that this love is attainable, that new relationships are possible, that hope exists.