Hope

March 24: So we as a group visited Knox Elementary, the last school on our trip that went to tutor the kids. Going to Payne Elem. and SOD (School of Discovery) the other days was interesting because it was strange to see how run down and lack of resources the schools had to prepare its students. It reminded me of the schools people went to half a century ago that wasn’t well kept. It made me sad that these wonderful kids have to go to a school like this but fortunately today’s school was a sign of hope. The school looked well kept and had motivational artwork on the wall.
I got to tutor kids in a kindergarten class. It was so exciting seeing them participating. They were so innocent and eager to learn. I actually had a few minutes to talk to their teacher and other faculty. I learned how they recognize Selma needs help and how change for the better comes slow but is nonetheless important. I was really happy I was able to talk to them and get insider info about Selma. I hope to back.

A Dwindling Community

IMG_5222Alabama has been a very insightful and humbling experience. Volunteering at the 6th grade School of Discovery was very interesting. Upon arrival, I was not sure what to expect.

The school was a very old building “one of the oldest in town” stated the principal. It reminded me much of the building that I was at during my first two years of high school. There were so many kids in the halls during transition and it was hard to believe that all of them were sixth graders. First, I began helping with a science class. The class was learning about volcanoes and I was relearning with them (haha). For the first half of the lesson, I couldn’t really help the teacher because it was mostly lecture and watching a video. The last part of the class, I was able to flip through animated slides and help the children understand more about the volcanoes and to elaborate a little more than the slides did. In sitting there and observing, I noticed that many of the students did not have pencils or pens and needed to borrow them from their teacher. In addition to that, I noticed that there was not enough books for each student and the books they did have were very torn and old.

After some time with the science classes, I went to an English/elective class that had a substitute. I enjoyed this class a lot more IMG_5229because I, along with four other ASB girls, were able to talk with the students about college and answer any questions that they may have had. The girls and I asked the children a variety of questions as well. One of these questions was what they liked/disliked about Selma. Almost immediately a boy raised his hand saying how he did not like how there were so many shootings, deaths, and crimes. Another student mentioned that she did not like that there were no places to shop and not very many restaurants. The children know that their town is dying, they can see that stores are closing, they know that there is crime all around them. It is hard to see that they’ve become so used to it that its not a huge deal. It seems as if they just brush it off.

 

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…

Why do you wear that scarf?

IMG_20160321_152236So the usual for this morning before heading out was brushing my hair into a bun and wrapping my scarf around my head before heading out.

I was sure that there was going to be questions about it at the elementary school and I had my answer ready, but I was in no way prepared for the response I got that day….

we had just gone outside for play break, and were on the swings, we were putting together a hot dog ( three people on two swings interlocked by our legs) once we finished that, a couple of girls and I were chatting while swinging and there came THE question.

So what’s the reason you wear that on your head? Is it from your culture?

No Its because I didn’t feel like doing my hair this morning.

They all laughed, and one said she wish she could do that, then another asked: can we see it?

Sure, I said.

I slightly lifted my scarf to show the girls and one replied: OH THAT’S WHY YOU WEAR IT! That’s okay my momma doesn’t know how to braid either, she whispered.

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!

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.

 

Technology Helps!

Before we got off the Subway today someone asked me what my favorite location has been and I answered that I haven’t found it yet.  That is no longer the case, The Common Pantry has definitely been my favorite location to visit and volunteer.  We walked in to the pantry and were immediately greeted by a very energetic coordinator by the name of Jen.  She took us downstairs to the pantry for the “fun stuff” she called it.  And it was a lot of fun.  I could see me and my group making a real difference in this pantry.  We were packing the bags after the orders came in and bagging produce and stocking shelves.  The Common Pantry was the most organized and well put together program I have seen in New York since I have been here.  The process started downstairs in the lobby where the person checked in and sent their order to the pantry on a tablet.  The order came from the tablet and was sent to the Pantry volunteers on the computer.  We then packed the grocery bags and sent them to the respective person.  Jen called the pantry a high tech establishment which made it a smooth process.  Melody and I were discussing upon departure that this place would fall apart without volunteers, it is run very efficiently because everybody has the common goal of doing good for the people of New York.

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A Trip to the Disadvantaged

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Well, today was certainly a treat to the volunteers who went to Help 1.  When I was told about what the volunteering would entail, I was expecting to stay in a shelter to package bags, give out food, and get to know the homeless people in the community.  My expectations were completely off.  Instead of going to a homeless shelter, I ended up going to a children’s daycare.  When I arrived with my group, I waited in the lobby for someone to guide me to where I was to help the teachers instruct their students.  What happened next took me completely off guard.  The facility director approached my group and guided us down a hallway, tell us “this room is for 2 year olds, this one for 2-3 year olds, 4 year olds…choose one.”  I was astonished!  The director didn’t even tell me ANYTHING other than her name and where to go.  Sorry, but I’m used to having introductions and explanations on what I’m to do.  IT really made me think about how this area operated and how it could be improved.

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To make matters even more “interesting,” the teachers were the same.  Yes, they were nice and did their job, but I didn’t feel that they were as sensitive as they should have been.  Even so, it only added to making it a meaningful experience.  After all, I wouldn’t learn much from this experience if it was I saw the same things in North Carolina.  Furthermore, the daycare was connected to a series of apartment rooms (where most of the kids lived) that had iron barred windows and were enclosed in an iron fence.  And even under the cumbersome living situations they were in, the kids there were incredibly engaged and interested in socializing and playing like no one I’ve seen before.  It was pretty upsetting seeing some of them getting excited about talking to me when I knew I wasn’t going to see them again.  If only I could stay there longer to get to know the system more and make a bigger difference to the daycare…Overall, the experience I had at Help 1 is one I will always cherish and take with me wherever I go so that I may be able to better relate to others living in impoverished communities.

 

Lights, camera, BROADWAY!!!

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I guess it is a must to go to a Broadway show when you are in NYC.  I am not the biggest fan of musicals but it is a true statement it is a must do thing.  We stood in Time Square at 3 pm and got 50% off discounted tickets for Mama Mia at 7 pm.  I think we are officially New Yorkers, when you are weaving in and out of crowds in the Subway trying to make the right train to not miss your show, you feel like a true New Yorker.  I am so glad I attended Mama Mia it truly was a magical experience.  The singing, dancing, and acting in this show was incredible and beautiful.  To add to the magic we walk out of the theater and the entirety of Time Square is lit up.  The atmosphere is definitely something to experience.  We walk up and down Time Square to soak it all in.  But it was quickly time to head back to the Hostel and recharge for our early morning of community service.