After organizing Alternative Breaks (AB) trips to New Orleans, South Texas and San Francisco, Hali Hoyt, Assistant Director in the Longhorn Center for Community Engagement realized there was a gap – there was no AB to serve the Austin community.
“Working with students, their entire community is just the forty acres and we thought it was imperative for our students to learn the stories of Austin,” Hoyt said. “Not just the dominant narratives in the UT classrooms, but narratives of those in Austin communities that have been here for generations and have seen the changes in Austin.”
The AB Austin pilot consisted of 10 participants split into five pairs. Each pair was charged with interviewing and filming a member of the Austin community to collect a personal story. That footage was then used to create two-to-five minute documentary style videos. The theme for the trip and videos was amplifying voices not often heard in dominant forms of media.
For the remainder of the week, students heard from guest speakers and visited a number of cultural community centers, including Casa Marianella, a volunteer-driven East Austin shelter serving immigrants and asylum seekers and the Inside Books Project which sends free books and educational materials to prisoners in Texas.
For first-year government major Michelle Egbuna, the week was a life changing experience. “The idea of humility and living a simple life was my greatest takeaway,” she said. “So many people face so much injustice and we can become disillusioned or forget that.” Egbuna added that moving forward she plans to continue to work with the organizations she worked with through AB Austin.