“While there is a chance with young people, let’s expose them to things that would benefit them down the road.”
There’s magic in an American road trip, but the trips organized by Mike Weaver have a special kind of alchemy. For the past six years, Weaver, 52, has brought together teenagers, college students, parents and retirees from Atlanta and his hometown of Aiken, S.C., to travel to other cities to volunteer, visit colleges and learn from one another in a program called WeCCAAN, or Weaver and Concerned Citizens of Aiken/Atlanta Now.
“I wanted to do something different,” Weaver says. “I wanted the teens to be able to talk to the college students. The college students to talk to the young professionals. The young professionals to talk to the midcareer professionals. The midcareer professionals to talk to the retirees — for all these generations to talk to each other, but also to work side by side with each other.”
“While there is a chance with young people, let’s expose them to things that would benefit them down the road,” Weaver says.
Weaver, the youngest of seven children raised by a single mother, grew up in Aiken’s housing projects and later a lower-middle-class neighborhood. As a student at Morehouse College, he worked as an after-school counselor in what was then one of Atlanta’s most violent neighborhoods. After graduation, he became an administrator for nonprofits before earning a doctorate in public health.
Weaver now runs his own educational consulting firm in Atlanta, is married to a public school educator, has three sons and describes himself as a “where-the-rubber-meets-the-road professor.”
So while teaching a class in 2011 at the University of South Florida about Hurricane Katrina and environmental health in the black community, Weaver took 43 students to New Orleans to learn from community members and volunteers who were rebuilding the city. They constructed planting beds from concrete blocks and cardboard boxes in a community garden, met with a resident of the Lower Ninth Ward who lost his mother and granddaughter during Katrina, visited the French Quarter and St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, and took in a Mardi Gras parade.
It was the start of what would become WeCCAAN. Today, about 350 participants have traveled to New Orleans, Baltimore, New York, Boston, Miami and Washington, D.C., with the program. Public service is the focus of each trip.
One evening last June, Fredericka Tucker, 18, boarded a bus in Aiken, joining 51 people from Atlanta and Aiken heading to Miami with WeCCAAN. Arriving in Miami the next morning, Tucker and the other participants headed to a community garden, where they pulled weeds, prepared plants for the soil and tried guava and sugar cane juice. They met with an administrator of a clinic that provides health care and other services to homeless people. They visited three college campuses and walked around South Beach, where Tucker was amazed by the diversity of languages, accents and skin tones.
“It was just an eye-opener on how a small trip can be so impactful,” Tucker says, reflecting on the trip and how she bonded with the people of all ages who traveled with her. “We were able to understand one another a little more.”
Jason Hodges, 50, met Weaver during their workouts at the YMCA and has since donated to WeCCAAN. He joined a trip to Washington, D.C., Baltimore and New York in 2015. “You interact with people from all walks of life — the chaperones and the young people involved,” he says. After the trip, there was a new sense of unity among the participants, a nearly magical transformation of a group of diverse individuals into a community. It was Weaver’s doing, Hodges says. “He shows people that they could be more than they thought they could.”