Not Repeating the Past, Repairing the Present, and Looking Toward the Future…

IMG_2779Tuesday, 22 March 2016
Today, our group traveled to Montgomery to visit the Rosa Parks Museum and the Southern Poverty Law Center, as well as walked around downtown Montgomery sightseeing. Tylisa graciously agreed to come with us, and we saw Emily from Something New during our travels.

IMG_2792Starting out after breakfast this morning (where we had an opportunity to dialogue with other college students who are attending Alternative Spring Break this week), we proceeded down U.S. Hwy. 80, arriving at the Rosa Parks Museum. After the docent introduced the topic and described what we were going to see, the tour began. We began by watching a short movie that detailed the struggle to integrate the buses, then went into the next room. As we continued through the displays, we learned more about journey that the community took in order to be able to not only integrate the buses, but to find some measure of respect and equality in a community that until that point had not allowed them much at all. The final displays in the museum described the journey since integration, as well as Rosa Parks’ life after the bus boycott and the honors and recognition she had received.

IMG_2808We walked to lunch, and followed that activity by taking a walking tour of downtown Montgomery as we progressed to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) Civil Rights Memorial Center. Once we arrived at the Center, our interpreter described several aspects of the work that the SPLC is currently doing, as well as how the Civil Rights Memorial Center came into being. Then we had an opportunity to walk around the interpretive center and look at the various exhibits before sitting to watch the movie that gave additional background information on the struggle for civil rights.

IMG_2820After watching the feature, our guide inquired as to whether we had any questions; afterward, we walked through a display that discussed other civil rights issues, then entered a room where we could add our names to the moving wall of people who had pledged to work toward inclusion and equality for all. Our group then went to the contemplative area and gazed at the memorial for the people who fell during the Civil Rights struggle, as well as the fountain wall graced with Dr. King’s quote: “Until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” If anything, I would hope that this trip highlights the divide within our society, and encourages all of us in the group to work towards building a community of peace and understanding, not only to better our society, but to impact the world.

IMG_2825Dinner was back at the Freedom Café. The final event of the evening (after dinner), all of the Alternative Spring Break groups watched a movie about the RATCo/New Expressions dance company entitled I Will Dance. This movie, funded via a Kickstarter campaign, is a documentary detailing the lives of the children who are impacted by the program and the journeys that those children make in order to help build up themselves and their community. Following three of the performers, the filmmaker uses those individual stories to allow the audience to walk along the path of discovery with the young people being helped within the confines of the program, as well as to help the viewer understand the level of segregation and lack of opportunity that are present in Selma today. After the movie showing, there was a question-and-answer session so that the audience could ask questions and gain more information on various aspects of the program. It was very informative, and I think that it did a good job showing why this program is needed so desperately within the community.

Tomorrow, we are helping out at a Middle School. It should be a very interesting day, especially if I go out and jump rope again in my socks…

Little Inspiration Makers

“Our heritage and ideals, our code and standards – the things we live by and teach our children – are preserved or diminished by how freely we exchange ideas and feelings.” –Walt Disney

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     To give you a little background, on Saturday afternoon our Alternative Spring Break group of 17 individuals composed of two faculty & staff members, two student leaders, and thirteen amazing students arrived into Selma. You would have thought we had fallen back in time. Bare streets, brick buildings, closed down stores and the bridgeIMG_4943 that started it all. The town has a population of 19,000 composed of 70% African Americans and 30% Whites. While it takes only five minutes to get from any given point to another that also means it takes the same amount of time to move into unwanted territory. The town is divided much like it was in the 50s and 60s. East side, west side, and old town make up this city rich in history. East side is comprised majorly by African Americans and maybe a few other minorities. With dirt roads, shotgun houses, and even a formerly “colored only swimming pool” it is easy to understand how the children I have met have referred to it as “the projects”. Drive five minutes to the other side of town and you’ll be in West Side. Beautiful houses, clean streets and an all-white country club is icing on the cake of this “whites only” neighborhood. How can this be? Well if the $1500 one-time membership entrance fee and $190 monthly family fee wasn’t enough to bar minority individuals in Selma where the income per capita is $16,605, then the board members who have to vote and have 100% agreement on all new members will be. Smack dab in the middle of it all is Old Town. An integrated neighborhood, these houses are marked with placards that identify their construction date some dating back to the Pre-Civil War era. Even though this neighborhood is integrated, there are many who are in disagreement. With family roots that date back to confederate generals, slave owners, and Ku Klux Klan members some just can’t move past the old ways. While learning about the history of Selma was a great experience, nothing could prepare me for the mindset and attitudes of the individuals who are beaten down by their society every day.

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On Monday, we had the amazing opportunity to visit Payne Elementary School. I was excited to work with children and I eagerly choose first grade. Payne Elementary School is comprised of 279 students from Kindergarten to Fifth grade. Since the schools are still segregIMG_4914ated all of the children are African American. I know what you’re thinking. I must be crazy that’s against the law and there is no way the schools can still be segregated. And although yes I am a tad crazy and yes segregated schools are against the law, the schools are definitely still segregated. And although it may not be by law that they keep the black and white students apart, they do have a method to their madness. Introducing Morgan Academy, “a pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade, coeducational independent school.” In short, the white community usually sends their family to the private Morgan Academy while the low income minorities (who can’t get in or afford the private school) go to the public school system. Don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong with going to a Public school but when 30% of your population is white and less than 1% of them attend a public school you have a serious diversity issue.

The children are hyper aware of their surroundings. The first graders I was able to talk to Despite the challenges they face, the children I met at Payne Elementary were outspoken, spectacular and brave. They understood the challenges that were occurring in their neighborhoods but yet wanted better for themselves. They dream of growing up to be football players, teachers, and sign language interpreters. They are the inspiration and the reason so many continue to work to build a better Selma.

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Remember, as our friends at Something New say “It’s not a moment; It’s a MOVEMENT!”

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A Day at Payne Elementary

Today was our third day in Selma, AL and I woke up feeling excited about what the day would bring. We went to Payne Elementary School today and sat in and helped out in the classrooms with the students and teachers. I sat in on a 1st grade class and what struck me while sitting in today was that a good majority of the class had a hard time counting and adding numbers together. I felt very upset by this. The teacher told me that when the class first started, all the kids in the class could not count by 5’s and 10’s. We did a lot of Math problems in general and I helped this one particular boy who was having such a hard time with adding and subtracting. The teacher told me that he would have to stay back a grade because he just wasn’t understanding the material and wasn’t focusing. It was very sad to me to see him struggle and get frustrated because a lot of the other students knew the material more than he did. After I helped him, he thanked me and gave me a huge hug and it made me feel so good about helping him and just being able to be there for the students in the class. Something else I learned today at Payne was that in the particular class I was in, almost half of the students would have to stay back and repeat the 1st grade due to low test scores in Math and Reading. It was upsetting to see this because it really seems like a lot of the children try their hardest to do well.

I was able to sit with three students in the class and tutor them on certain words that they were having trouble with. It upsets me to know that two of the kids I had in my group had such low grades in the class that they would have to stay back a grade. We were at Payne Elementary School pretty much all day working with these kids and it was definitely a very interesting and eye opening experience to be a part of. The kids are just so full of energy and are just overall great kids and I can’t wait to work with them again on Wednesday and I just looking forward to the rest of the week in general.

So far, it’s been such an amazing experience and I’m so glad that I came on this trip and met all these wonderful people who are so passionate in what the do and I love the ASB group that I’m here with in Selma!

Foundations of Non-Violence Training on Sunday

Yesterday on Sunday was a fantastic day of non-violence training. The training was led by former NBA player Ron Smith and a gentleman named Barak Gibson.

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First we had a wonderful homemade breakfast at Shawn and Talisa’s home in Selma. Then we headed to the church.

When I first heard of us doing non-violence training, I imagined a scene from the movie Selma where protestors were being trained how to resist and react with possible violence from racist groups. We didn’t actually do that since we were doing just a single day of training. We did something more important: lay the foundations and values of non-violence training.

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We began by playing a game called Butts Up to warm up and make sure people were listening and awake.

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We then performed an exercise where we picked a partner who we didn’t know well and learned things about them. After we learned the information, we then had to get in front of everyone and introduce our partner to the entire class (and hopefully not forget any details we had just learned).

The purpose of this single day training was to lay the foundations of non-violence training. This began with just simply learning how to connect with people. This included getting to know them through communication and learning not to label or stereotype people.

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For lunch we had a FANTASTIC quesadilla plate with chicken quesadillas, spanish rice, lovely black beans, and all the jalapeños one could want.

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After lunch we focused on labels and values. Students had to pick their top 5 values. Then we broke up into teams to come up with common values our entire team could agree on.

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Before dinner, we ended our non-violence training with a wonderful debriefing of what we learned the past 4+ hours. I really loved debriefing. It helps bring people back to focus on what we had learned, each individuals thoughts and reactions, helps people retain what they just learned, and allows people to ask for clarifications.

They do not talk about this in the history books…

Shocked, eager, uncomfortable, numb, grateful, and inspired are the main six emotions to describe my first day in Selma, Alabama. To firsthand witness segregation and extreme poverty in person is what brought on these simple yet strong emotions. When groups like “Black Lives Matter” or any group trying to acknowledge a racial issue, you’ll   see some of the blog websites and news stations saying stuff like, “this group is dividing our country” or “your beliefs are what causes division.” NEWS FLASH: There are actual parts of our country that are segregated AND have been segregated. You can’t do something that is already done. We also should not speak on subjects we are ignorant and uneducated about. Watching and actually Selma are two TOTALLY DIFFERENT things. It is absolutely mind-boggling on the impact of visiting Selma in person.

On the other hand, there are people who are trying to unite our country here in Selma. There are parents who have sacrificed their jobs, time, and effort to be a helping hand in the community. There are also the kids of these parents who have stories of what they’ve been through for doing what is humanely right that are breathtaking and inspirational. THIS is what exactly MLK fought for, just like him they are fighting the injustices and inequalities of America, I am bless to have this opportunity to have been able to witness what I miss and experienced what I am experiencing.

First Impressions

IMG_20160321_153713At first glance Selma, Alabama looks like any other small town. Perhaps a little forgotten and quiet but after spending time with some of it residents there is so much more to discover. Coming from living in such highly populated and diversified cities, such as that of New York City and Raleigh, I never imagine that the words “racism” and specially “segregation” truly existed anymore. After hearing some of the stories the volunteers of the Freedom Fighters shared with us along with the cold hard facts of the history of Selma I learned that to this day Selma schools were indeed segregated primarily due to income and choice. Several white families did not want to be integrated and believe this action would taint their culture and heritage and as such they pulled their kids out of the public school system and created their own all-white private schools. To make matters worst there is an all-white country club that requires members to provide a picture and family heritage when applying, thus the board members can easily identify and deny membership to all African-American and minorities.  The list goes on and on such as the monument dedicated to the confederate flag and Nathan Bedford, the founder of the Ku Klux Klan; the division of the town into West, the White and rich, and the East, the African-Americans and the poor; and the migration of 10,000 white individuals out of Selma due to their inability to accept having, for the first time ever, a black City Mayor.

WelcomeThis day was filled with so many emotions and disbeliefs, mainly because I could not understand how one kind of individual could hate another due to their skin color. Although today was very saddening I still have hope for I know there are hundreds of people that believe Selma can change and progress for the better, and this situation is only a temporary setback.

 

First Day of ASB SELMA 2K16

IMG_20160319_164323Dang yo, where do I start? This whole day has been a roller coaster of emotions, experiences, and just down right fun. I was a first time flier so that was pretty cool. The drive wasn’t too bad. the real shocker was when we crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge. It really was like stepping back in time. It’s almost as if this town froze in time and nothing changed (except for the cars lol). One of the things that really struck me was how much segregation there still is and how many people’s mindset was still not changed after all these years. The death threats were the most disturbing news to me because I thought people had left all that negativity back in the 60’s but unfortunately that was not the case. It was also amazing to tour Selma and get to learn about the many different historical property whether it belonged to a brigadier general of the confederate army or just a racist politician. It was really cool to see some of the historical landscapes that were portrayed in the movie actually in real life. The most impactful place was Brown Chapel A.M.E church where Dr. King used to preach for peace and equality because you really get a feel of how it would have been like at the time. My favorite part was the freedom cafe. It may be located in a church basement, but it is such a safe haven for any and everybody and you can truly feel it. Everyone is your friend there no matter what shape or color you are. And let’s not forget those turkey and cheese thingies were the bomb. I feel as if my eyes have already been opened up and this is just as a result of the first day. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the week holds in store for us.