A service-learning trip to Ferguson, Mo., by Hendrix College students focused on systemic racial and economic injustice.

Group explores challenges of racial, economic injustice in Missouri mission

Ten Hendrix College students and three staff members recently returned from a service-learning trip to Ferguson, Mo. Sponsored by the college’s Miller Center for Vocation, Ethics and Calling, the experience engaged the group in discussion, education and action related to systemic racial and economic injustice. 

The Hendrix group traveled to Ferguson Jan. 7-13 to work with the Center for Social Empowerment (CSE), founded by the Rev. Dr. F. Willis Johnson in the aftermath of the August 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown. The group participated in CSE’s education and community-based social engagement programs, which seek equity, inclusion and the transformation of economic and social systems.

CSE staff led discussion sessions each morning, challenging the group to work through ways to lower barriers to social justice, including naming biases, having conversations about race and acknowledging the ways their own identities intersect race, gender, sexuality, disability, survivor status and more.

“By the end of the week we were introduced to tools to help us become better advocates and activists in our own communities,” said Dr. Todd Tinsley, a trip leader and associate professor of physics at Hendrix.

“Working with the Center of Social Empowerment taught me that the world would be a better place if we just took the time to truly listen to one another,” said Breann Forbes, a senior business and economics major and anthropology minor. “Talking to my fellow students and the staff at the Center for Social Empowerment, I found people who were dedicated to wholeheartedly listen to others without judgment, and that was transformative.”

For first-hand experience in the Ferguson community, the Hendrix group visited Kingdom House to help sort donated clothing; tutored students at Koch Elementary School; and helped facilitate CSE’s Saturday Academy at Lee Hamilton Elementary School.

A group of Hendrix students sorts donated clothing at Kingdom House in Ferguson, Mo.

“Working with children was undoubtedly the most cherished part of the Ferguson trip for me,” said Remington Harris, a senior majoring in English. “The time we spent with them has caused me to re-evaluate what I would like to do in terms of a potential career choice.”

In addition to Forbes and Harris, participating students included Gwen Boone ’21, Rebeca Castillo ’19, Mackenzie Gearin ’20, Amanda Jimerson ’19, Quinn Johnson ’21, Annie Meek ’18, Patty Omolo ’18 and Brock Sullivan ’19. The trip was led by Tinsley; Tanaisha Coleman, apartment area coordinator; and Hannah Hill, assistant director of admission.

“I’m honored to have had the opportunity to travel with these students and colleagues,” Tinsley said. “Day after day I was struck by their steadfast efforts to engage emotionally and intellectually with the work of the Center for Social Empowerment, the community of Ferguson, and their own personal growth.”

Founded in 1876, Hendrix has been affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884.