Drexel Alternative Spring Break Explores Nourishment in Philadelphia

May 5, 2017

When spring break comes around in March and April, most of us likely think about going to beautiful, sprawling beaches to turn our brains off and relax. Or we think about going someplace new, foreign, or exotic to explore new places and taste new foods. Few of us likely think about spending our spring break or vacation volunteering and working hard, and likely even fewer of us consider serving and volunteering in the actual city in which we live.

The Drexel ASB students in their before-picture, tending a garden plot at Beacon Church

Six students from Drexel University fell into that minority for their spring break this past March. These students, participating in Drexel’s Alternative Spring Break program, stayed in Philly with us at BSM for a week of service and education surrounding issues of hunger and homelessness. Our guiding theme for the week was Nourishment, and we moved through our time together asking questions such as: how does the city nourish all of its citizens? Is nourishment a privilege or a right for folks experiencing scarcity of physical needs and safety? How do we nourish ourselves as we work towards equality and justice? What are our responsibilities for nourishing our neighborhoods, other neighborhoods, and the land? How does a historic scarcity of nourishment and access to resources affect present day scarcity and vulnerability?

On our final night together, we dug into the history of nourishment (or lack thereof?) of the students’ home neighborhood at Drexel in University City. We discussed the history of the Black Bottom, the neighborhood that existed in University City in the early to mid-twentieth century. We discussed the impact of UPenn and Drexel’s development and expansion on this tight-knit, vibrant community. We discussed how redlining and how both federal and local systems of injustice cut the Black Bottom neighbors off from growth and development, until the neighborhood was classified as a “redevelopment zone” in the 1950s. We discussed where the neighbors moved to, what educational and employment opportunities were and were not available to them, and how generational poverty of families in the Black Bottom has continued to affect citizens of our city today. We discussed how gentrification and neighborhood redevelopment may or may not have affected the racial tensions leading to the MOVE raid and bombing in the 1970s.

Hearing of and learning the history of the Black Bottom, the Drexel students incredulously reconsidered how their presence in University City plays a role in and impacts the wider community of University City, West Philadelphia, and the city as a whole. They left their week with BSM committed to sharing the story of how nourishment – of all persons, in all times and places – is integral in creating a landscape of the city that lives out William Penn’s dream for Philadelphia to be a community-based, equitable, diverse, and free city.
Below, you’ll find a couple of the Drexel students’ greatest takeaways from their Alternative Spring Break at BSM:

“I feel much more capable of doing something in the world. I have a greater understanding of my skills, values, and identity. I feel more hope for myself and for our society.”
“A more holistic understanding of hunger and homelessness through the lens of needs and nourishment. Discovering that just providing large amounts of food is unproductive while providing various services, a community, and respect might create slow but steady change.”

Calling all Philly College Students! We want to hear from you.

As we continue to brainstorm ways to involve our neighboring college students with volunteering, community service, and civic engagement, we’d like to hear from you! We have a team of student consultants from the Drexel Dornsife Centre for Directed Study in Entrepreneurship who are researching and exploring ways to get more college students involved with BSM’s new Day Immersion program. Please take the survey here to help us learn about what you’re looking for or are interested in in the way of civic engagement education. Thank you!!