It’s no surprise the School of Art + Design student opted to spend his spring break half a world away in the Greater Accra Region of Ghana tilling soil, mixing concrete and sweating bullets in 100-degree weather.
“Working in that kind of heat was crazy, man,” recalls the Neptune, N.J. native.
A few weeks and nearly 5,000 miles removed from “a trip of a lifetime,” Peoples sits at a back corner table inside the Littman Library in Weston Hall, where he studies interior design. Although they’re hidden behind a pair of chic Ray-Ban sunglasses, his eyes light up when he recounts the 10-day stint refurbishing flowerbeds in front of Konko Presby Primary School in Asempanye, a small rural town two hours outside of Accra.
“I also learned how to mix concrete with water by hand,” he says, smiling. “The tools they used were primitive. They would throw the dirt in, let it harden up a little bit and turn it over. That’s it. That’s how they did it.” The 70 concrete bricks Peoples made will be used to renovate the school.
At NJIT, getting your hands dirty in the name of civic engagement isn’t just encouraged—it’s mandatory. To meet graduation requirements, students in the Honors College must volunteer for 30 hours (15 hours on campus and off campus in Newark).
Having been named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for six years, NJIT boasts a demonstrated commitment to service that inspires students the moment they step foot on campus.
But it isn’t everyday that a Highlander ventures out on his own to raise $6,000 to volunteer in Ghana with International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ), a global travel organization dedicated to improving the lives of others. Peoples made the journey with his bestie and business partner Kyle Lewis, a student at Howard University.
“We represent the smallest ratio of black men in urban areas who’ve had the chance to touch down in Africa,” says Peoples. “We wanted to express brotherhood, peace, unity…to show that anything is possible.”
“I’m eager to do more work that has an African origin, whether it’s artistically, culturally or intellectually,” he says. “Going there allowed me to see that almost everything on Earth has an origin that is from Africa. And as an artist and a designer, I feel that it’s only right to pay homage to that in some way.”
During a weekend excursion, Peoples and his globe-trotting IVHQ crew traded the dirt roads of Accra for the ocean views in Cape Coast, a serene seaside community with direct ties to one of the most tumultuous eras in history.
“We were given a tour of Cape Coast Castle,” says Peoples. “I saw authentic slave chains and got to step inside an actual slave dungeon. It was…”
He takes a beat, visibly shaken by what he saw.
“I’m still speechless,” he continues. “I’ve been thinking of a word to describe the feeling. I don’t think words can describe it.”
So he decides to let his photos do the talking.