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FROM READERS: MU freshman gives back to the community, learns valuable life lessons

Tuesday, April 29, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT
Members of Mizzou Black Men's Initiative volunteered in Dallas during spring break.

Darron Edwards Jr. is a freshman at MU, studying Strategic Communication. He is a part of the Mizzou Black Men's Initiative.

The Mizzou Black Men's Initiative Alternative Break trip to Dallas had me excited from when I first learned we were taking the trip. Personally, I wanted to participate in Mizzou Alternative Breaks, but failed to apply last fall. Also, this spring was my first semester in MBMI, so I was anxious to spend more time with the group and learn more about each person. We left early Friday morning, were excused from class the last day before spring break, and tightly fit into four different rental cars. The bonding between the brothers in the class started immediately as many interesting events happened on the way to Dallas. Once we arrived, we were excited to get started on our trip!

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One great thing about the Mizzou Black Men's Initiative Alternative Break trip is that we were able to gain knowledge outside of just our volunteering. Staying true to our mission as an organization at Mizzou, our coordinator lined up networking opportunities to gain insight on college/post-college life. Saturday, we met Lincoln Stephens and Robert Weaver, both African-American males who graduated from Mizzou and are doing respectably well in their careers. The advice the brothers gave us was invaluable. They talked about how to be successful at Mizzou as a minority student by sharing their successes as well as their mistakes. After enlightening the group, they began to get more in-depth about what each student on the trip was interested in, and wanted to do in life. Using their hindsight, they explained what led to or kept them from achieving their passions. Overall, the wisdom and motivation I gained from those two brothers changed how I will treat the rest of my semester and last 3 years at Mizzou.

As I mentioned earlier, I really wanted to bond with the class over break. The down time we had after volunteering really gave me that opportunity. We learned about each other's passions while talking to the former students, and that was the ice breaker. Through the car rides, dinners, card games, clowning, and dancing I really felt like I bonded with my classmates. We will be the future leaders of Mizzou and will be successful in the upcoming years. I am glad we grew closer so that the relationships don't die when we are not in class together anymore.

Going into the volunteer days, I told the group I really wanted to receive a bigger heart for those less fortunate then me. I had done community service, but I wanted to feel passion from it, instead of it being just another task. Alternative Break gave me that opportunity. Monday, half our group went to the food bank at the Dallas Resource Center.  As we worked and as clients came to shop for food, I noticed all kinds of people walking through the door. Many were of different ages, sizes, and races. They looked so different but they were people who were dealing with similar problems. Honestly, you could never tell some of those people were homeless or unemployed. The experience just reinforces the book cover cliché. Working alongside the clients, we were able to listen to their life stories they began to share. Personally, I benefited from that specifically because no one knows what people are going through, and what led them into that position. Honestly, the theme of the volunteering was not necessarily learning something new, but reinforcing everything I had always heard with personal experience that gave me a new heart and perspective on the situation.

That evening in the hotel, a few of my classmates discussed events at the food bank that day. While we were in the lounge having an educated discussion, a lady heard us nearby and offered her expertise. She was working on her dissertation to receive her PhD in gender studies from a university in New York. She began to educate us in her expertise, but then the conversation took a twist. She began to eradicate myths we had about the LGBTQ community and helped us understand people better. Her friend joined her and gave us personal information about his queer lifestyle. Afterward, she opened up as well, talking about her lesbian lifestyle. The transparency of these two individuals we stumbled upon was a timely experience and revelation, because my half of the class went to serve hot meals in the LGBT Resource Center the next day.

Without that talk, I definitely would have perceived people differently at the food bank. I would not have treated them wrong without the talk, but I felt like understanding the LGBTQ community before serving those in need gave me the compassion I needed to serve with a bigger heart. Once again, all kinds of people came through the resource center to eat lunch that day. It was an experience in itself to see so many different types of people in one setting. One thing I noticed was that they were all friends helping each other get through the tough times. However, the tough times had no effect on their countenance as I was greeted with mostly smiles and thank you's.

The resource center really appreciated our help. They had never had a group of our size come through and help them before. They got the most out of our numbers, too. Afterward, we took many pictures with the volunteers and supervisors. The smiles we were able to put on the volunteers' faces, who work for this cause everyday, meant just as much to me as the clients because they have their own set of problems. However, each day they come to volunteer and focus on the families in need. True heroes.

Honestly, this trip was supposed to be about the subject of homelessness. While we did experience some of that, I feel like we helped other types of categories as well, such as HIV/AIDS and LGBTQ, both of which I did not expect. This was definitely an enlightening experience and I plan on doing Alternative Break again before I graduate.

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.


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