Calvin’s Perkins Fellows meet John Perkins over spring break

Photo courtesy Service-Learning Center
Photo courtesy Service-Learning Center

While most Service-Learning spring break trips send off a group of students that can fit in a 15 passenger van, this past week, 28 students and two faculty members loaded up a charter bus and travelled to Jackson, Miss., to spend a week learning from Dr. John Perkins, a civil rights leader and a cofounder of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA), and the staff of the Spencer Perkins Center.

This group was comprised of first year students who are part of a new leadership cohort, the John M. Perkins Leadership Fellows. Their program involved this past week’s spring break trip to Jackson so that they could learn from Perkins, a figure they have discussed extensively in the classroom.

It was not only an opportunity for the Perkins Fellows to spend time with Dr. Perkins, it was also an opportunity for the students to see Dr. Perkins’ ideas of Christian community development tangibly put into action, and to meet people who are doing this work daily.

“My eyes have been opened even further to all of the situations I knew were going on, but [this trip] made them become much more real,” said Kimmy Louwsma. “[Dr. Perkins] has given me multiple perspectives and insight for leadership, discipleship and kinship.”

While the students did spend time serving around the center by getting a baseball field ready for spring, prepping a community garden for planting, painting the inside of the house and various other jobs that needed to be done, the staff of the Spencer Perkins Center also focused heavily on teaching the trip participants more about the civil rights movement in Mississippi and different principles of Christian community development, such as looking for assets instead of just the negatives in a neighborhood.

“Spending time focusing on the assets of the community gave me a refreshed view of development,” said sophomore Emily Lawson. “The key thing I learned was that you do not work for the people — you work with the people.”

On Monday, the students spent time learning about the eight principles of CCDA, which include ideas such as relocating into neighborhoods people often abandon, striving for reconciliation between people across lines of race, socioeconomic status and other barriers and the redistribution of resources so that everyone has access to basic assets like fresh food, safe sidewalks and quality education.

On Wednesday, the students were taken on a civil rights tour through Jackson and Mendenhall, Miss., the first site where Perkins began to put the ideas of Christian community development into practice. The students visited important historical sites like Medgar Evers’ home and streets where civil rights activists marched together in protest of the segregation, discrimination and perpetual racial violence.

“It was as if I took a step back into history and learned about what it means to be a servant leader and serve your community,” said Freshman Helen Boayue, reflecting on the experience. “I also learned to show love to people, even the ones who may be difficult to love.”

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