Nine undergraduate students traveled to Tutwiler, Mississippi, to assist a Habitat for Humanity project and learn about social, economic, and political issues that impact this rural, Southern community. They also learned about the work of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary who have been serving communities in Mississippi for 30 years.
The March trip was part of the Spirituality and Social Justice class taught by Sister Sophia Park, and included visits to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, and the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Sr. Sophia accompanied the students on the trip with Assistant Director of the Center for Social Justice and Civic Engagement Javier De Paz, Faculty Coordinator for Community-Based Learning Sister Maureen Hester, and Graduate Assistant Maribel Lopez.
Students said that spending time in Mississippi was an enriching and emotional experience.
“For all of us it was a really rewarding experience. I’m really thankful for the opportunity that Holy Names, Sr. Sophia, and everyone has given us,” Jillian Boland said at the HNU community presentation about the trip.
The focal point of the trip was helping to build a home with Habitat for Humanity in Tutwiler. Students insulated the home, cut and installed sheetrock, and nailed wooden frames. Upon its completion, the house they worked on will be presented to a family who has been waiting for a home for seven years. “It was a great honor and privilege for us to help them obtain that dream,” Vinson Johnson said.
Students also visited the Tutwiler Clinic, which was reopened by Sister Anne Brooks in 1983. She shared stories of reopening the clinic—a challenging time that included threats by the Ku Klux Klan in the predominantly African American community. Dr. Brooks has worked to improve the health and wellbeing of local citizens for 30 years.
The students spent time at the Tutwiler Community Education Center, which grew from outreach efforts at the Tutwiler Clinic by Sister Maureen Delaney. The center moved from the clinic to a building in town in 1992 and now serves the people of the Tutwiler community with intramural sports programs, weekly senior programs, afterschool programs, quilting programs, and other vital services.
The group also visited the Jonestown Family Center for Education and Wellness, founded by Sister Theresa Shields, and Jonestown Durocher Service Development, founded by Sister Kay Burton. Both are located in Jonestown, Mississippi.
Phillip Polk, a student who participated in the trip, said that Tutwiler has a lack of employment opportunities. The average household income in Tutwiler is $22,000.
Despite the lack of economic opportunities, students said that the community was inspiring due to the graciousness and welcoming nature of people who lived there.
“It inspired us a lot to see how hospitable they were,” Lauryn Barbosa said. “Even though they were part of the poorest city in the United States, you would have never known because of their love.”
This was the ninth year that HNU students have visited Tutwiler during spring break.