Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Not Your Average Alternative Spring Break - Kevin Smith '20

On March 5th, 2017, nine Levine Scholars from the Classes of 2019 and 2020 departed Charlotte, NC on their way to Lewisburg, West Virginia for the program’s first-ever Alternative Spring Break trip.  Accompanied by the LSP Director, Dr. Zablotsky, the LSP Scholar Coordinator, Billy Roosenberg, and an integral LSP consultant, Richard Smith, the 12 members set out not to achieve success but to create a lasting impact on a community in need of a helping hand.

I can’t speak for the group, but I had no idea what we were about to experience. We had prepared well for the trip by hosting multiple orientation sessions and recruiting experienced faculty from the Geography Department just to educate us on the Appalachian region. We became familiar with where we would be, but there is no preparation for the type of people we might expect to meet. Upon arrival, we met the director of Almost Heaven Habitat for Humanity—Lori Greene. She welcomed us to West Virginia and briefed us on our team leads for the week-long project as well as the work we would be doing. It was unsurprising to learn that teamwork was going to crucial for the week ahead—between the Habitat work and the preparation of meals, we had to be efficient with our time and communicate effectively to make a difference.
Our first trip to the work site was Monday morning. The work began with a meaningful prayer by Team Lead Luther (known to many by the name of Lord Luther). This tradition would carry on for the remaining days of work. We would arrive early, get briefed on our assignment, and participate on a group prayer lead by Luther. The group prayers were a fantastic metaphor of our presence in West Virginia and that’s why I looked forward to them as my favorite part of the day. We came together and, with a similar goal in mind, set our attention on the job at hand.

Lewisburg, West Virginia was not randomly selected as our alternative Spring Break location. We were there to help families who experienced excessive flood damage to their previous homes. Habitat works with these families and provides them extremely-low interest rates so that they can begin to live a normal life again and still maintain the title of homeowner. While working inside the house, you could find the future homeowner busy on job assignments of her own. She painted, measured, and consulted a number of projects within the home. That’s one of the reasons this trip hit home for so many of us because of who benefits the most from this trip.

We showered in a different facility from the one we slept in. It wasn’t an inconvenience though, because we shared the showers with other groups working in Lewisburg to make a difference. Communicating with these folks helped to remind me of the kindness of people. I made the decision to go to West Virginia based fractionally on the lack of activities I planned for Spring Break, but the other groups made the conscious decision to come, not because they had nothing better to do, but to improve the lives of others and that’s important.
We had  a few extracurricular during the trip, but the most representative one was our Tuesday night trip to the Heritage Music Hall and here is where we meet Pauline, an 81-year old widow from Monroe County (she drove 30 minutes to get here and wouldn’t let us forget that!) She divulged to us that very few of the women present tonight were actually married despite their multiple dances with one man. She explained this to us in an effort to display the dominance the men have over their favorite women. While not representative of the whole of West Virginia, this idea resonated with me the rest of the trip. I believe it’s a side-effect of the deep-rooted culture of the Appalachian region, but there are a plethora of articles out there right now explaining just how wrong I am with that observation.

What a week it was! From exploring caves to swinging sledgehammers, the Levine Scholars Inaugural Alternative Spring Break was a success. Everywhere we went, we received thank-you’s for the work we were doing. If you asked any of the nine scholars (including myself) if they would do it again, I’m positive all nine would confirm. Habitat loved us so much that Lori asked us to sign an agreement for next year! While we politely declined Lori, be on the lookout for more Alternative Spring Breaks from the Levine Scholars Program in the future.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Attending the Women's March on Washington - Casey Aldridge '17

On Saturday, January 21, 2017, I took to the streets of Washington, D.C. with anywhere between five hundred thousand and one million marchers as part of the Women's March on Washington. Caroline Fowle, Addy Goff, and I carpooled together on Thursday evening to prepare for and attend the march. When Saturday morning came, the metro was packed over capacity, as more people flooded to the mall than had the day before for the Inauguration. I've been to some massive protests before, including the People's Climate March in New York City in 2014, but I don't think I have ever seen this many people in one place. As far as one could see was a crowded but beautiful sea of pink hats and protest signs.

Several other Levine Scholars and Alumni attended the march, some of whom I did not realize were in Washington until I saw protest photos on Instagram or Facebook later that evening. I was -- to my knowledge -- the only Levine Scholar at the D.C. march to not identify as a woman or as female. The scope of the march, however, was by no means limited to any single issue or constituency. Janelle MonĂ¡e led the crowd in her #BlackLivesMatter anthem, "Hell You Talmbout." Native American demonstrators made their presence known, carrying the slogans of the movement in Standing Rock for clean water and against the North Dakota Access Pipeline. Muslims, Jews, atheists, and Christians marched together against religious bigotry. LGBT folks voiced their concerns and their demands in the face of the new administration. Many immigrants at the march carried signs declaring that they were "undocumented and unafraid." 

The march was a beautiful reminder of what our world can look like, even if it doesn't look that way today. Millions across the United States marched that day, in Los Angeles, Chicago, Austin, New York, and Charlotte, just to name a few. I knew family, friends, and fellow Levine Scholars at the march in Charlotte, which drew nearly twenty thousand people. The numbers, of course, are less important than the people themselves. It was an honor to march with friends and make new friends in the streets at the Women's March, and to be present in their frustration, anger, fear, sadness, and defiant joy. Feminism and other justice-oriented social movements flexed their muscles on January 21, and that ought to be encouraging to us all.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Finalist Weekend 2017 - Reginald Harper Jr '20

This year’s finalist weekend was a success. Being a freshman, seeing the other side of the program was beneficial to me, as I was able to witness the logistics that went into the production as a whole, and gave clarity to some of the questions that I filed away last year.

I enjoy meeting people in general, so this weekend particularly piqued my interest. While it is hard to meet seventy or more students and their families in depth, I found it valuable to see such a successful class entering next year, regardless of who is selected. Even further, I know that those who may not receive this scholarship have endless opportunities in other ways. It is encouraging to see the amount of students who are making differences in their own individual ways, as it indicates the impact that they will make on our, or other, universities, and eventually, on our society as a whole. 

On the other hand, as we approached the event, I found myself reflecting on how much of a blessing the program is. Being able to have directors who are invested in seeing us succeed and fellow scholars who push each other to go above and beyond encourages me to excel in every facet of life. I am so comforted to have found a family in those that I have bonded with over the last year, and I know that there is no other program like this one.

I am eager to meet those who continue their studies here, whether through the program or not, and for them to experience such a network that will help highlight their strengths, improve on their weaknesses, and become productive citizens of our society.

Monday, December 12, 2016

'Twas the Week Before Finals - Ryan Mach '17

‘Twas the week before finals, when all through the school,
Not a student was stirring, not even the frat boys who think they’re so cool.
The papers were written with the finest of care,
In hopes that we would avoid that final semester scare.

The students were snuggled ‘neath blankets of wool
Filled to the brim with their studying aids, coffee and red bull
And freshmen in the ‘brary, and I in my exam
Had just amped up our brains for a long winter’s cram

When out on the quad there arose such a clatter,
That I sprung from my chair to see what was the matter
Away from that class I flew in a flash
For I was looking for any excuse to get out in a dash

The fog lying low to the ground
Helped muffle my footfalls til I made not a sound
When, what surprise I did see
But the fluff of fur that belongs to a puppy

For it was that time of year around here
When UNCC brought the pups to quell student’s fears
In walked their owner with a chuckle of glee
Delighted knowing he’d help prevent student’s C’s.

“Now Roger! Now Daphne!
Now Mojo and Lexi!
On Dash! On Delilah!
On Fido and Maxi!
To the back of the library,
To the lap of the students,
Now cuddle away! Cuddle away!
Cuddle away all!”

So shouted their owner with force,
And the dogs did love all, as they will of course
So up to the laps the puppies did fly
And now the sad students no longer did cry

‘Twas then that the students did double down on school,
For they had finally found their secret weapon, their tool
The love of the pups did bring them around
And now it was easy to do exams they found
And at the end of the week the owner did leave
But not before students took their exams and achieve
With school over for the semester and students going home
The pups were now free to go roam

As the owner was packing his truck to depart
Away from him one puppy did dart
And I picked him up and gave him back to his owner with ease
Then to me the owner said “Listen closely, if you’d please

‘Tis the season of exams and of stressing,
But if you could listen for just one final lesson,
For following this season of stress
There is one final thing you need to address

Remember that the holidays are about to begin,
A time to pig out and meet back with kin
So remember as you’re about to take flight
Good luck on finals to all, and to all a good night!”

Monday, December 5, 2016

Dance Marathon 2016 - by Sam Lee '20

It’s Friday, November 4th. 6:58 pm. UNC Charlotte students and their friends from Levine Children’s Hospital are lined up side by side, decked out in beads, tu-tus and other festive attire to represent their color group, preparing to dash up the steps of the Popp Martin Student Union to kick off one of the most exciting events of the year: Dance Marathon.
The weeks leading up to Dance Marathon are some of the busiest of the year for my fellow Levine Scholars, who are a force to be reckoned with on the Dance Marathon committees. They headed many of these committees from Catering and Entertainment to Morale and Family Relation. Hours of dedicated planning went into the events leading up to Dance Marathon that culminated in the longest, most fun night of the fall.
From nine in the morning, until five in the afternoon (just enough time for a very quick power nap before the event officially started), various scholars, joined by building services and other volunteers, gathered at the Union to put the final touches on decorations and other preparations. My job was to cover the stairs in streamers from top to bottom, and to help paint the signs for color rooms. Others helped with decorating the top level, blowing up balloons and hanging signs. Some members of the catering committee spent the day picking up food for the event.
After the legendary stair climb, we all entered into the main room, greeted by disco-like lights and the fun decorations from this morning. Everyone immediately began swaying and shaking to the music. One of the Miracle Kids took center stage in a group I was dancing with, twirling her wheelchair to the beat of the catchy pop music. We later learned that she loves to dress up as Disney princesses, and that for Dance Marathon she wore her very favorite dress: Elsa from Frozen’s blue dress.
Soon after seven, the mastermind behind the organization of Dance Marathon and sophomore Levine Scholar, Danielle, got up onto the stage and announced the official kickoff of the night. She also explained that periodically throughout the night we would be able to hear the stories of some of the Miracle Families that had experience with Levine Children’s Hospital and sometimes, even see the amazing children speak themselves about their time at Levine and how they’ve grown up since.
The night began to fly by as the families told their stories between lessons from the Morale Committee on the official 2016 DM dance, many more songs, and plenty of opportunities to chow down on the delicious food. Each individual story was simultaneously inspirational, heartbreaking, and hopeful. Hearing about the hardships and challenges that the carefree children I had just been dancing with have already faced in their lives was tough, but seeing their bright faces when they got down with us to a group dance lifted my spirits. No matter what they’ve faced, these kids are strong and resilient.
As the final few families had the chance to tell their story, many of the kids started to get sleepy as the hours of dancing wore them out. Many of the Miracle Kids had to go home to get some rest through out the night. UNCC students stuck around for another seven hours, showing their respect for the families and their dedication to the cause. The rest of the night was filled with dancing games, drawings for prizes, tons of food, Zumba, and a DJ Battle. Students sustained themselves on cake pops, bagels, coffee, fried chicken, tacos and a variety of other food, all donated.
Finally, as the sun rose, those who made it through the entire night gathered in the main room for the big reveal. After awards for spectacular fundraising and a big drumroll, the leaders of Dance Marathon took the stage and raised the numbers one at a time. $50,858.52! The culmination of months of work and dedication from every participant, 2016 brought the most money raised in the history of Charlotte Dance Marathon. Everyone went home exhausted but proud of the spectacular work we had all done “for the kids.”