It can be easy to make generalizations about people who don’t have permanent housing. But for Ashira Campbell, a sophomore communication major at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, United States, each unhoused person is an individual she has an opportunity to serve. “They all have a story,” she says. “They’re all someone’s kid.”
Campbell is from Denver, Colorado, a city with a high rate of unsheltered homelessness exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. She says, “You don’t see it as much as a child, but the second you step out into the ‘real world,’ you’re made aware that people are suffering, people you see every day.”
When she saw how bad the situation in her city had become, Campbell felt she had to help. “I began creating winter survival kits from donations of coats and other things that you need to survive. I also volunteer at our local food bank, where we have a section for clothing. I help make Thanksgiving meals for families.”
Campbell refers to herself as an activist who focuses on the unhoused and African-American civil rights. “I always refer to Jesus as an activist,” she says. “He didn’t stay silent when things were not OK. When it comes to taking action and being out in the community, Jesus is the best role model for that.”
Campbell didn’t leave her service work at home when she came to Union College. Union has plenty of service opportunities for its students. Campbell participates in Project Impact, Union’s annual all-campus service day. She also volunteers with Campus Ministries at People’s City Mission, a local homeless shelter, and Husker’s Feeding the Homeless. “I definitely am planning to get more involved with People’s City Mission,” Campbell says. “There aren’t as many unhoused people in Lincoln as in Denver, which is a good thing. But it’s definitely something I want to help with.”
When Campbell first came to Union College, she planned to be a nursing major, but something just didn’t feel right. Then a story from an alumnus during her freshman orientation inspired her to pursue a different path. Campbell says, “He talked about how he changed his major many times until finally saying ‘OK, I’ll start listening to Jesus and I’ll do what I’m called for.’ I told my mom, ‘I don’t think nursing is the route for me.’ ” With advice from her mother, her freshman life coach, and her professors, Campbell decided communication was the path for her.
“I’m really enjoying being a communication major,” Campbell says. “My academic classes have impacted my ability to connect with and serve others for the better. My communication and religion classes show how to navigate important conversations with people of different backgrounds and perspectives.”
After Campbell graduates, she is planning to attend law school. “I want to become a civil rights lawyer for people who haven’t been served justice and are suffering in silence. That’s really close to my heart.
“We are the next generation, and we need to take advantage of that. We have so much power in our voices.”