By Phil Brown
“We love you. We need you. And you need to learn your Black History,” Professor Preston Love Jr. said to a classroom of high school students.
For the second in a series of three learning experiences hosted by the black studies professor and the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Service Learning Academy, Love and other speakers emphasized the value of local support networks and family ties, whether organic, or facilitated by their neighborhood institutions.
The importance of civic participation and giving back to the community were also stressed over the course of the event, which took place on Oct. 28.
In the first event on Oct. 14, students from Benson High School’s African-American History class were invited to campus. They were given a tour of Dodge campus, and listened to presentation from Love and members of his black politics class on topics such as abolition-ism. Plans were begun to include the members of the high school and college class on a series of initiatives to increase voter participation on campus and in the student’s own north Omaha.
This preparation began to pay off when students arrived for the second event in the series. After being given a tour of Pacific campus, the students returned to the College of Public Affairs and Community Service. As they ate lunch, Love talked to them about what they had learned so far. Then the students heard again from representatives of the Goodrich Program, but this time, from their peers.
Three current Goodrich students talked briefly about their experiences under the program to the high school students, including a recent Benson High graduate.The theme the Goodrich scholars were united on was family. Smaller classes, dedicated faculty and the presence of a support network all contributed to the sense of family that the Goodrich scholars felt they had with the program.
While the events gave University administration a chance to recruit a bit, the main focus of the series was the opportunity it gave the high school students to learn and serve. The Service Learning Academy, who helped facilitate the event,specializes in bringing together K-12 classrooms and UNO college classes for mutual goals.
“We handle a lot of the logistics of the project so that the day of [the event], all parties involved only need to show up”, SaraAnn Staley said, a graduate assistant with the Service Learning Academy, who was the main point of contact between Benson High and UNO.
The goal of this particular collaboration was to promote civic participation and give both classes an opportunity to serve their community.
For the second event, Benson High students, along with students from Love’s black politics class, helped the League of Women Voters with their voter registration efforts in Milo Bail Student Center, handing out voting promotional material and interacting with students in the building.
“The Benson students were able to make a difference in the very community they live in by learning to empower those around them,” said Staley, “The UNO students realized just how much impact they can have on the next generation and learned a greater appreciation for voter empowerment.”
For the final event in the series, the focus will switch from UNO’s campus to North Omaha. Instead of Benson High students being bussed down to UNO, members of Love’s black politics class will head north to meet with the high school students on their home turf in Benson.
There, the two groups will study how to increase voter registration in the area, and formulate a targeting strategy for placing a goal of 1000 voter registration signs in north Omaha.
Staley said one of the goals of the event series was to help students “make a change in today’s land-scape”, and students from both classes seem determined to make that goal a reality.