On August 29th, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana taking the lives of over 1,500 residents. On October 29th, 2012, Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New York leaving thousands of residents without shelter and resources as winter set in. On March 12th, 2013, I had the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people affected by both disasters as I helped to organize and host the One-for-One Seed Drive and the Breaking the Silence on Extreme Poverty Conference here at UMass Boston (UMB).
For the One-for-One Seed Drive, we set up a station with a tub of soil, spoons and plastic cups on the First Floor Terrace of the UMB Campus Center where students, staff and faculty planted over 300 cups of green beans and miniature sunflowers. The planted seeds were then donated to the Walter Denney Youth Center, City Year at the Dever School and other schools being served by Jumpstart UMass Boston AmeriCorps Members to be given to youth living in the Greater Boston Area, so they could get their own little taste of sustainable development.
The “one-for-one” aspect of the drive will come over the next few weeks when 1,000 seeds donated by Renee’s Garden in Felton, California will be delivered to CUNY Ernesto Malave Leadership Academy who will then distribute the donated seeds to a community garden in Brooklyn that is currently being rebuilt after Hurricane Sandy destroyed it last fall.
In partnership with The Center for Social Policy, the International Fourth World Movement, and UMass Boston’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, my initiative, Project Serve, planned the Breaking the Silence on Extreme Poverty Conference that brought co-authors of a recently published book, Not Meant to Live Like This: Weathering the Storm of our Lives in New Orleans to campus to tell their stories. The book was co-written by 50 men and women who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina and had been closely connected with members of the International Fourth World Movement for years before the devastating hurricane. This inspiring book gives a unique insight into the lives of people living in poverty before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina.
On the afternoon of the event, over 100 students, staff, faculty and community members gathered in the third floor ballroom of the Campus Center here at UMB. All in attendance witnessed the soulful trumpeting and poetry of MACC Alumni, Pete Shungu (Afro D); the wizened orating of my personal hero and Harvard Sociologist, William Julius Wilson; and the engaging, insightful stories of Katrina survivors as interpreted by True Story Theater.
For every person that planted a seed that day, countless lives will be changed; for every person that attended that conference, their lives were changed. People don’t just experience dire circumstances in the wake of a natural disaster, extreme poverty is omnipresent. We made that clear on March 12th.