Finding Hope Through Chalk

Merrimack students participate in a civic initiative in Lawrence, MA that gives residents a space to reflect, write, draw, and voice their goals and aspirations, framed within the statement, “Before I Die”.

Putting theory into practice is a common theme among Merrimack College’s graduate programs, including a recent community project in Lawrence, MA. By example of Candy Chang (featured on a TED talk) and led by Merrimack’s own Dr. Elaine Ward, assistant professor of the Graduate Education Department, the Community Engagement students, Merrimack graduates and various other volunteers partnered with Lawrence Community Connections to give an artistic voice to the Lawrence community.

On August 17th, the group provided the Lawrence community with a 55-foot bilingual chalkboard with the phrase “Before I Die ______” written across. Community members were encouraged to participate by writing their own goals, dreams, aspirations, or hopes on the wall. Renee Hopkins, an alumna Merrimack graduate student who now works for the School of Education at Merrimack was a large part of this project and a firm believer in its mission, saying that, “while walls are usually constructed to create division, we saw this community project as a way to inspire.”

In order to maintain the ideals of this project, “Chalk Talks” will be conducted within the city to promote awareness of common themes found written on the wall. Led by Merrimack graduate students and project participants Sabina Shakya and Juliet Ramirez along with Renee Hopkins, discussions will take place on how community leaders can address these social issues and concerns.

This community effort has exemplified Merrimack’s mission to be an institution of social change. Students are not only learning in the classroom, they are learning what it means to take passions and beliefs and use them to create a better world. Merrimack alumni and current graduate students went above and beyond the class requirements to be a part of something so much bigger. These participants created a wall that allows people to see how alike we all are and to discover what hopes and dreams are found within the community. This effort truly takes the idea that Merrimack is empowering lives to a whole new level. As Anna Elzer, a current graduate student and one of the leaders in this project said, “these experiences, these relationships, these reciprocal impacts – this is why I am here.”

Jasiela Chavez, an active alumna and another leader of the project, stated, “The primary lesson I’ve taken away, is never judge a book by its cover. If you come and read, one can make a lot of assumptions, but when you see the faces, hear the individual stories, you begin to learn that we are not that much different as we like to think we are.”


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