“Keep chasing your dreams” — Project Success in Washington, D.C.

February 25, 2019

Project Success students and staff at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
Project Success students and staff at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

As Project Success has expanded its global expeditions, annual travel to Washington, D.C. has remained a consistent part of our programming. Washington D.C. offers unique opportunities for students to immerse themselves in American history and culture.

This winter, we planned to repeat this life-changing trip for a new group of nearly 50 young people, all students of color. In late January, they planned to spend 3 days visiting the NMAAHC, Howard University and other DC landmarks … until the government shut down. The shutdown began at the end of December 2018 and lasted until the 25th of January, closing all of the Smithsonian Institution’s museums, including the NMAAHC.

Project Success staff are not strangers to managing unforeseen circumstances and change – from weather to scheduling to transportation and logistics. In workshops, our facilitators ask students questions like “What do you do when your plans fall through?” and “What happens when your plan needs to change?” The unique challenge the shutdown posed to our itinerary also offered us an opportunity to model these values for our students by overcoming obstacles, staying positive and making conscious decisions.

Ultimately, students attended the Holocaust Memorial Museum in lieu of the NMAAHC, resulting in an equally powerful and reflective experience.

Students at Howard University

Howard University

A visit to Howard University was the core of the students’ experience their first day in D.C.

At Project Success, we design our college tours to give students a true sense of what it is like to attend a given college or university. In the case of this particular global expedition, students spent nearly all day on campus participating in admissions presentations, a campus tour, hearing from faculty and students as a part of panel discussions, visiting the university’s Gallery of Art and eating in the campus café. They met Dr. Greg Carr, Associate Professor of Africana Studies and Chair of the Department of Afro-American Studies, and had a chance to ask current Howard students about their experience. Dr. Carr and the Howard students gave Project Success students the chance to hear first-hand perspectives about the school, providing relevant context around their rich campus diversity and the HBCU experience.

At the end of the tour, our professional facilitators led a workshop where students had a chance to discuss whether the idea of attending an HBCU was appealing to them. They reflected on HBCUs in the context of history, race and education, and the things they’d learned about Howard (and college in general) as a result of the trip:

  • “This trip made me more determined to go to college. Based on what I saw on this trip, I can’t wait to get there,” said Javonni, a junior at Edison.
  • “This trip taught me that I’m interested in attending Howard and in the HBCU environment in general,” said Anisa, a junior at Roosevelt.

The evening culminated in a dynamic, interactive poetry workshop at Busboys and Poets, “a community gathering place where racial and cultural connections are consciously uplifted.” For many students, this was a trip highlight. They heard from poets Charity Blackwell and Drew “Droopy the Broke Baller” Anderson, accomplished spoken word artists who first performed, then guided students through writing their own poetry with themes of history and identity. Students fully embraced the opportunity to present their personal poems to one another, even staying beyond their allotted workshop time.

Students with PS facilitator Annick in front of the Capitol building

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

The next day, students immersed themselves in national history, seeing a wide variety of monuments, including the Washington Monument, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Lincoln Memorial and Martin Luther King Jr Memorial.

Then, students visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum, which, like the NMAAHC, . Some students were so moved by the experience, they requested extra time to take in all the museum had to offer. Staff and students reflected on the ways in which studying history can facilitate difficult, but necessary, discussions about the future.

“The Holocaust Museum and Howard University gave me a new perspective on how negative actions and choices affect the future,” said Peter, an Edison student. “I think my new-found perspective has bettered me as a person.”

Students Chasing Their Dreams

The D.C. trip opened students’ eyes to future possibilities – all in the context of reflecting on history. Some students set a new goal to attend college, an HBCU, or even set their sights on Howard University. For many, this trip represented a new world of travel as they experienced their first airplane flight or first travel outside of Minnesota. One student was so affected by the Holocaust Memorial Museum, she changed her elective courses to learn more about that period of history.

Together, they connected to students from other schools and with other life stories. They created plans to realize their goals and discovered entirely new motivators. As Washburn student Steeve said, “Project Success helps kids understand what they can do to keep chasing their dreams.”