From left: First-year student Payton Wilson, sophomores Kayden Edwards and Dominique Blounc, and junior Morgan Brown clean trays for a potting mix during Howard University’s Day of Service, the annual service initiative for incoming students. (Ja'Mon Jackson/The Washington Informer)
From left: First-year student Payton Wilson, sophomores Kayden Edwards and Dominique Blounc, and junior Morgan Brown clean trays for a potting mix during Howard University’s Day of Service, the annual service initiative for incoming students. (Ja'Mon Jackson/The Washington Informer)

Howard University (HU) student Stephani Clark said she entered her senior year with a deeper commitment to serving the D.C. community she has grown to love since moving onto campus from southern California four years ago.  

Clark recently channeled her love for the District into a service project she conducted at SEED Public Charter School during HU’s 10th annual Day of Service. 

On the morning of Aug. 18, Clark, along with dozens of HU students, helped administrators at SEED PCS prepare for the upcoming school year by folding school uniforms, filling backpacks donated by Target with school supplies, labeling boxes, and hanging up posters and yearbook photos. 

“Usually when I volunteer at schools, I’m working with children but it was with the administrators this time,” said Clark, a student committee member for HU’s Alternative Spring Break. “They were excited to get students back. It was nice to see their passion [and] help them relieve stress so they can teach the students and make for a good school year.”

Nearly 1,500 students of various faiths participated in HU’s Day of Service, an event that  HU’s Office of the Dean of the Chapel modeled after its Alternative Spring Break program to welcome incoming students and get them acclimated to the greater D.C. community. 

HU faculty, staff and administrators also joined in the Day of Service. 

This year, HU students conducted service projects at seven sites, including SEED PCS and Sasha Bruce Youthwork, a provider of services for youth facing housing insecurity. The projects, centered on HU’s motto of “Truth and Service,” allowed students to tackle voter suppression, health and educational disparities, climate change, food insecurity, and violence. 

“It’s important for HU students to fellowship with the D.C. community because they welcome us with open arms to their community and it’s important that we give back,” said Michelle Taffe,  HU Day of Service ‘s executive student coordinator. 

In the weeks leading up to Aug. 18, Taffe, a senior nursing major, guided her fellow coordinators in the search for potential service sites in the District. During the Day of Service, Taffe visited Sasha Bruce Youthwork and participated in a service project with Hustlaz 2 Harvesters, an organization that allows returning citizens to explore urban agriculture and social entrepreneurship.  

As the university continues to reel from incidents of violence that have affected HU students, Taffe said that HU’s Day of Service further highlights the importance of she and her fellow Bison leaving the confines of their campus to meet D.C. residents and learn more about the nation’s capital. 

Students are still excited to engage and serve with the community, especially with youth in education,” Taffe said. “The best part about being in D.C. is being able to see different people and learn more about the history of our people.” 

On Tuesday, HU administrators hosted its second public safety town hall in response to an incident during which a group of District youth allegedly beat and robbed HU students in front of Howard Plaza Towers, a student residence hall located near the corner of Sherman Avenue and Barry Place in Northwest. 

During the early morning hours of Aug. 14, Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) received a call about an assault and robbery involving dozens of young people. The incident happened days after a large group of youths had been removed from Banneker field. A fight had also broken out in a restaurant on Georgia Avenue in Northwest that weekend. 

According to MPD, two suspects stabbed an HU student and stole a set of keys, a pair of Jordans and an iPhone during the incident. In a statement, HU President Wayne A.I. Frederick said one campus security officer who “didn’t meet … standards of support and assistance” has been removed while another has been suspended, pending an investigation. 

During HU’s first public safety town hall, university officials announced the installation of 1,000 on-campus cameras, the dispatch of university police officers to vulnerable areas on campus, implementation of a secure access system and the designation of a safe path. 

Days later, on Aug. 17, HU hosted a public safety fair where students gathered information about self-defense, rideshare safety, athletic injuries, fire safety, and sexual health. 

While administrators have asked students to remain vigilant about who they let into residence halls, some students, like LaMoure Philmon, remain adamant about not letting recent events drive a wedge between him and the D.C. community. 

During HU Day of Service, Philmon volunteered at Marvin Gaye Park in Northeast with Washington Parks & People, an alliance of community park urban partnerships. For hours, he helped construct new benches and provided touch ups to an area in the park that surrounded the garden. 

Philmon told the Informer that, before the tenth annual Day of Service, he had only visited Ward 7 twice as an HU student. He said the service activity opened his eyes to, not only the food insecurity that residents in that community face, but residents’ fervor for safe, extracurricular activities. 

In the aftermath of an incident that could potentially dim some students’ view of the surrounding community, Philmon pledged to keep a positive attitude about his neighbors in Shaw and Banneker field , and in other parts of the District. 

“I try to remind younger students to be safe [and] look at a situation as a way you can help people,” Philmon said. “We come from different walks of life that influence our decisions. That shouldn’t be something we judge them on.”

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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