(From right to left)  Abigail Samples, Cathy Freytag, Erin Slegaitis, Ashley Gay, April Parkhill, and Garren Barna
(From right to left) Abigail Samples, Cathy Freytag, Erin Slegaitis, Ashley Gay, April Parkhill, and Garren Barna
Author: Bethany Hillegas
Date: May 27, 2014
Categories: Community|Education|Impact

On Saturday, May 17, 2014, Houghton students joined the nearly 5,000 people who linked hands in a 4.5 mile human chain across the city of Buffalo during the Hands Across Buffalo event. 

This citywide event, based on the 1986 demonstration “Hands Across America,” brought together community members from the neighborhood and surrounding region in a unified celebration of diversity.

For 15 minutes, people joined hands across the length of East and West Ferry Street, which spans many of Buffalo’s racially and economically diverse communities. The human chain demonstrated a community commitment to promoting diversity and challenging poverty in the city of Buffalo.

Following the human chain demonstration, participants were invited to attend a series of community events and workshops around the city. Houghton students took full advantage of these opportunities to engage with cultural experiences and critical discussions as they learned more about life in the urban community.

A group of students toured the Vive La Casa Refugee Center where they learned about the preliminary stages of refugee immigration and spoke with recent immigrants from around the world who are currently receiving asylum at the center while they wait for the paperwork to be transferred to a resettlement agency.

Another group of students attended a workshop on “The Unaffordable Side of Buffalo” provided by the People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH) Buffalo. Here, they learned the definition of affordable housing and how this impacts families living below the poverty line.

Yet another group of students participated in a Salsa and Bollywood dancing workshop at the West Side Bazaar, where they not only engaged in the rich musical and cultural traditions of two Buffalo populations, but also explored the many diverse shops and restaurants within the bazaar. The bazaar serves as a launching pad for ethnic small-business owners as they build up their business in preparation to move to their own location. The effect within the bazaar is a feeling of traveling around the world without leaving the room.

The Hands Across Buffalo event coincided with Houghton’s two-week Teaching in Urban America Mayterm course taught by Dr. Cathy Freytag. Through this course, education majors at Houghton College engage in an urban education immersion experience which includes eight days of observations in Buffalo’s school system. These education students develop an understanding of race, class, and culture issues in contemporary urban schools as they participate in class discussions, serve as teacher’s assistants, and engage in extra-curricular opportunities such as the Hands Across Buffalo event. This course inspires the critical thinking experiences and reflections students need as they prepare to be culturally relevant and responsive teachers.