Friday, April 16, 2010
Tolerance, respect, love are messages that we took from the civil rights movement of the past and are still needed in our struggles today. This trip has truly inspired me to be a better person and to cherish the opportunities that were afforded to me only because of the sacrifices of others. Before planning this trip I must admit I had a one dimensional view of the civil rights movement, slavery, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, KKK, and then all of a sudden blacks and white people were allowed to interact with each other. This was what I was taught in school, and what I saw on T.V. But through researching for and going on this trip I gained a new understanding of what a real hero was. As Joanne Bland said the “foot soldiers” where the real ones that brought about most of the change. It was people like Mary Louise Smith, Pastor and Mrs. Gratze, Emmitt Till and Sammy Younge Jr. just to name a bring few that really sacrificed to bring about the change that we see.
With that being said my favorite parts of the trip were the parts that really emphasized the part that “regular” people played in the civil rights movement. Such as the meeting with the “History Makers” those regular people that were called to do extraordinary things. I remember Mary Louise Smith- Ware, said she didn’t stay on that bus that bus to be some sort of activist, she did it because she was angry and tired of being treated as less than human. I also remember when I was talking to Pastor and Mrs. Gratze they said they did what they thought was the right thing to do and didn’t care that their position as white citizens would be jeopardized. People like Emmitt Till and Sammy Younge Jr. actually lost their lives for this cause, which is the ultimate sacrifice. I think that those who lost their lives in the movement would be happy to know that they were memorialized at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Civil Rights Memorial. It pays homage to not only those who were well known but also those who were forgotten or overlooked.
But I just want to say that I am so happy that I went on this trip I gained a new understanding of how much power I have. You don’t have to be some grand orator or some charismatic figure, you have to be yourself and do what feels right that is what the foot soldiers of the movement did. I think all of those people who perished since the struggle would be happy to see a group like ours. Because in some way or another their actions impacted all of our lives no matter what race.I’m sooo happy I went!!!!
Monday, April 12, 2010
When I returned to my dorm room after the coach bus departed, I dropped my luggage on the floor and flopped on my bed. I held on to a feeling that initially was a difficult for me to capture. Shortly, after trying to put my fingers on the feeling I called my father. Through conversation, I was able to reflect on what the trip meant to me. I voiced to my father how proud I was of my activists endurance and strength to obtain Civil Rights. I was in complete awe! In just a week my mind went into almost an overdrive of information and thought.
I did not know where to start with my father, as I loquaciously started a sentence and jumped to another topic about the trip. What still stood out to me and still holds presence is no other than, Ms. Bland. She personally inspired me. I doubt I will ever forget her, due to the impact she has had in obtaining civil rights in her community. When she picked up the rock, it was tangible evidence that evoking change is as real as the pavement we walk on.
I was moved during the tour of the Alabama State Capital. I was able to validate that African-American history is American history. It is a silly thought to detach African-American History from mainstream culture, as our heritage is deeply rooted and influential in American History. At the Arkansas State Capital the tour guide mentioned how uneducated blacks help to construct the capital, specifically the stairwell. African- Americans literally did build America, and is not something that can be deterred or doubted by time, as the stairwell is still standing.
Motivation. Hope. Appreciation. Simply put, three words that describe how I feel about the Pilgrimage. I will continue to inspire other students to attend the trip, as it has greatly been a life-changing, and mind-empowering experience.
Teranika L. Campbell
University of Illinois
College of Nursing, Junior
Women of Color Organization Member
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Sunday, April 4, 2010
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
For as long as I can remember I've been fascinated with the Civil Rights Movement. I deeply admire every single person that ever shed blood or even simply passed out flyers during this period. Because of them I was able to go on a trip across the country with students from all backgrounds and am able to live my life the way I do every day.
As for the people that were on trip trip with me, I've gotten close to some of you all. Had moments with others. We shared the same experiences and although our reactions or emotions may have been different, we got to learn together. It was a chance to bond with people not like me. And because I did, Im glad I was on this trip. Through the amazing displays, personal stories and even the unpredictable weather, this is one experience I will never forget.
Monday, March 29, 2010
I remember the Reverend "Billy" Kyles making a reference to something so obvious yet so profound and easily forgotten. He spoke about the uniqueness of each and every one of us as individuals, and how special that is in relation to our responsibilities in contributing to our communities, societies and the world. This touched me because for me, it really defined civil rights and showed how struggle continues as long as we are social beings.
My impressions of the South prior to this trip had been of curiosity, confusion and a slight sense of harsh judgement. I had visited New Orleans, Memphis and Florida before but always maintained that those were the more "touristy" parts. The education that I received in the small town of Selma just through its demographics really showed me how the movement was elevated and empowered from all corners of the South. I really enjoyed visiting Selma and I think Joanne Bland is a remarkable individual, one of which I will forever feel blessed for having the opportunity of meeting.
On the other hand, I couldn't help but feel disappointed by the remnants and perpetual celebration of an old order. I had known from before that many Southerners hold onto a sense of pride in what is deemed a "lost cause", but I had never imagined that the trailing aspects of the "lost cause" by which they should be ashamed of now, would continue to openly bear such importance today. Visiting the site of the Confederate Circle was somewhat comprehensible to me as it paid tribute to peoples grandfathers and so forth in their effort to protect what they believed was right. However, to come into contact with a memorial for Nathan Bedford Forrest alongside the disturbing words that accompanied was a major shock and disappointment and a real eye-opener. We are so easily accustomed to putting the blame upon radical hate-groups, and we quickly denounce them as "crazies". I remember Rachel questioning whether there was a place in Germany where one could find a memorial celebrating Hitler? Seeing that memorial was a revelation to me. It showed me that on the surface, relations may seem better but the struggle to really understand each other continues.
This brings me to another point that I have learned from the trip. Joanne Bland told us the importance of communication and asking questions in order to understand one another. What again seems like a simple reminder, is something that is so significant. I believe that every person has the capacity to love and that every person desires to be loved (reminds me of a debate we had on the bus actually... wink wink Samuel!). I also believe that to denounce somebody as being evil is not good enough, and almost excuses their actions. From what I learned from the Little Rock experience, it was not only the students that were mean and perpetuating the oppression of the 9 black students, but it was an entire community with a specific belief system that they sought to protect. Is it therefore enough to say that the entire community was evil at that time? I don't think so. However much we may not be able to fully comprehend the thought of the time through our contemporary lens, I do strongly believe that what we can do now as a move towards reconciliation and a better understanding of each other, lie within what Joanne Bland highlighted; the importance of asking questions so we can do away with prejudice and stereotypes.
Meeting with Mary Louise Smith was so unimaginable to me. I still can't believe that I hugged a lady that had so much bravery and courage to defy an unjust system alone. I had never really been the person focus primarily on popular individuals as the sole catalysts in movements of change. I also looked to grassroot activists and protesters because I believe they were the ones that put the "move" in movement. Likewise, in Birmingham, AL, my friend and I spoke with a guy sat in the park who shared his story of being arrested multiple times during the 1963 protests and how he feels about the city now it has changed. Listening to personal stories really touched me, and it really brought the textbook to life for me. It gave an individual voice to the numbers that would usually accompany the voice of a leader in a textbook.
So to conclude, as I enter my last segment of my journey to and within the United States on my international study program, I can comfortably say that I am glad that I embarked upon the Civil Rights Pilgrimage. I found it both educational to the mind and heart. I never cried so many times in one week from so many different emotions. It was definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I have come across some very special people that I hope to keep in my life as friends.
Thank you o January and the other creators of such an amazing opportunity, and thank you also to the U of I for giving this Brit such an enlightening experience! :)
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Our next stop was at the Clinton School for Public Service where 4 of the Master's students spoke to us about what they are doing to make the world a better place. Very inspiring. Most like there is a future Clinton school student in our group.
Then we headed to the Arkansas State Capitol. The highlight was checking out the Little Rock 9 statues.
Finally, we visited Heifer International. If you don't know what this is, go to www.heifer.org. They do incredible things to promote social justice and end poverty. I am not sure that all of our students were able to make that connection, but the ones that did got a lot out of this visit.
Today we had lunch at the famous Interstate Barbaque. I had very delicious BBQ nachos.
Then, we went to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. We toured the first building and then met with Rev. Billy Kyles who was with Dr. King when he was shot. Rev. Kyles told all of us to dream big dreams. He told us that dreamers are the ones who make big things happen. He had such a positive message given the fact that the main reason we wanted to see him was to have him tell the sad story of the end of Dr. King's life.
Overall, it has been and excellent last couple of days. I need to go to sleep so I make it out to the bus at 5am.
Friday, March 26, 2010
Thursday, March 25, 2010
One of the biggest highlights was the SCLC. We had to go through a metal detector because the KKK has tried to bomb the place before. The Civil Rights Monument was powerful. It was surreal to touch the place Rosa Parks had once touched. It made me sad to see so many people lost their lives because of the cause.
Speaking with Mary Louis Smith, Mr. and Mrs. Graetz and the other civil rights activists was definitely the biggest highlight. I wish we could have spent more time with them. I deeply appreciate that they would take the time out of their lives just to come talk to us.
Joanne Bland was pretty cool, and marching over the Edmond Pettus Bridge was moving. Several people honked and waved. You can just feel the history of that place. I think it was cool Obama marched there too.
The Bill Clinton library today was pretty interesting. I especially liked the Mickey Mantle rookie card that he received as a gift. I'm sure that's worth a ton of money.
I can't right now but I'll come back and put up pictures once I get home.
Today we woke up early to depart from Montgomery. In planning, I can honestly say that this was one of the days I was looking forward to the most because of all of the positive things I've heard about Joanne Bland. Joanne Bland is the co-founder and director of the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute in Selma, Alabama. As a child, she marched in "Bloody Sunday," and has been involved with Civil Rights ever since.
As we traveled from Montgomery to Selma, I had several thoughts running through my head: Where did they walk? In the grass? On the street? Which side of the street? How many people were with them? How long did the march take? What was discussed in the camps along the way. I followed the "historic route markers" along the freeway all the way to Selma. As we approached the Edmund Pettus Bridge, I thought about my own family. At my family reunion a couple years back, we marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to commemorate the march. Unfortunately, I was not at that family reunion due to being in grad school and my assistantship obligations. I thought about how moving it would have been to walk across with my family, signifying a sense of strength through unity.
Due to serving as one of the co-advisors of the Civil Rights Pilgrimage, I sit at the very front of the bus. Within minutes of Ms. Joanne getting on the bus, she had already made several jokes about our driver, called me her "boo." It was then that I knew that today was going to be a very FUNUCATIAONAL (homeade word for fun and educational) day. Ms. Joanne's quick wit and personality could be described as a "big momma," or even a real life version of "mabel simmons, also known as Madea." She has a lot to say, speaks the truth, and will say what is on her mind. In doing so, if she hurts your feelings, is unapologetic, as she distributed her FRANKNESS and CANDOR evenly amongst all people on the bus (from Advisor- Me, to bus driver- Charly.Furthermore, Ms. Joanne had a very charismatic method of delivering her personal stories and information about Selma, and the Civil Rights Movement. Ms. Jonanne's keep it real personality was a bit much for some of the students to handle, as she made them uncomfortable. I challenged them to get past how she was acting and to think about what she was saying. I tried to explain that it was just her personality. I would have loved to continue having these conversations, but I had to keep it quick, due to respect...and to ensure the joke stayed off of me! I would have loved to elaborate on why the students felt that way and to probe them to reflect on why she is the way she is. I hadn't put much thought into it, but as I began to write this blog it hit me. Ms. Joanne lived during a period where most blacks were afraid for their lives! She actually saw "BLOOD" on Bloody Sunday! She's been arrested, as early as 8 years old! Through each of these events, Ms. Joanne demonstrated a sense of courage in persevering though these awful events. I think it is unrealistic to as someone who was brave as she is to utilize a "filter!" It's just not her.
Our tour with her started in a riding tour of Selma. We saw the home of family friends of Dr. King (the place with he stayed when he visited Selma), the AME church that SNCC held meetings, the place that everyone congregated before heading down to the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, cemetery where some Confederate solders are buried, and the "black" and "white" side of campus. Ms. Joanne also talked about how during the Jim Crow period, there were two of everything, one for blacks and one for whites. This was observed on the tour. This was most notable with the fact that Blacks and Whites could not enter a building through the same door. As a result there were many buildings had two entrances. In most cases the white entrance was usually very nice, while the black entrance was often dilapidated and at an inconvenient location (back of the building). I saw the remnants of this with my own eyes during the tour. There was one building that was unique. There was a church that had two IDENTICAL entrances. One on the front of the building for whites, and one on the side of the building for blacks. Seeing this really brought Jim Crow to life for me. THIS WAS HOW PEOPLE LIVED and didn't have a choice!!!
Our tour also included us walking across the Edmund bge. Before getting off of the bus to prepare for our march across the bridge, Ms. Joanne shared a very emotional account of what happened on Bloody Sunday. It was a very moving story, and Ms. Joanne even broke down. It did fell a little different to see such a strong woman choke up and cry, but again only signified how important this day was to her existence, and that while she may be a very strong woman, she is also still human. Ms. Joanne mentioned how talking about her experiences were good for her, as it served as a form of therapy for her. After setting up the scene and having a couple tears roll down the side of my cheek, it was time for us to get off of the bus. Ms. Joanne did not go, because as she stated, "had already done it for us, and this time was for us to do it for her!" While this was a "symbolic" march, it was not very difficult for me to put it into perspective! We took at stand for a right that we strongly believed it. Knowing all that happened during this time period, I can honestly say that what we did was by far much easier to do. There was not a threat of getting shot or arrested by a police officer, mulled by a German Shepard, or attacked by angry mobs.
After we walked across the bridge, we concluded by attending the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute. It was here were we saw more artifacts that went into the fight for voting rights. There were several sections of the museum: a time line of black history events, women's history, being in jail, early politicians during the reconstruction phase, and President Obama, just to name a few. During an earlier phase of our tour with Ms. Joanne, she mentioned how when they went to jail, they'd often put up to 40 people in a cell. To enact what this felt like a student thought it would be a good idea to for us to ALL get in the cell and take a picture. This was a little difficult for some students who were in processing mode after all that we had done so far. One student became visibly shaken up because they felt other students were not taking the experience seriously. I followed the student outside and we processed about what was going on. I told the student that this experience is about them, and to not let others take away from it. If we're doing something and they need to vent or release, just to step away or go outside, calm down, and then return.
We then went to lunch at a Soul Food Restaurant where I WAS FINALLY ABLE TO EAT SOME PEACH COBBLER!!!!!!!!!!! and whew....it was dabomb.com!
After lunch we headed to Birmingham, where we attended the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. As a younger person, I had visited this place before. It felt different going back this time around. There was an addition to the museum this time, but it was more than that. I had a different perspective to view the museum. While here, I spoke with a student about the state of the black and what that meant at a predominately white institution. We both shared our experiences and ended up talking for nearly 45 minutes as we walked on throughout the exhibits. Our talking spawned out to include: The Black Family, activism now, what it means to be black, and interracial relationships. I was also approached by another student who wanted to have a discussion about what he was feeling with other students.
I did get a pleasant surprise. One of my cousins from Birmingham surprised me at the museum. Thanks Cousin Gene! It was good seeing you!
After leaving the museum, I went over to 16th Avenue Church to see where the Four Little Girls had attended church, followed by Kelly Ingram Park. At Kelly Ingram Park, I saw a new friend, Muni, who was also in Birmingham with her students during Spring Break. It's such a small world.
Today was intense. We had to be on the bus at 6:45 in the morning for the trip from Montgomery to Selma, Alabama. Selma’s history and current social state is overwhelming. Our tour guide Miss Joanne Bland was and to this very day is a freedom fighter. That decision was made for her when she was 8 yrs old…and was arrested for the first time. By the time she was 11 yrs of age she had been arrested 13 times and had given more to the battle for justice than most people (particularly the generations following the civil rights movements that enjoy such freedom people died for so inauspiciously) will their entire lives. She is walking history and I can’t help but think to give a big shout out to my guys Manuel Colon, Enrique Guerrero and Octavio Patino (including a lot more fellow University of Illinois students) that are making their own history and strives to equity by marching on Washington, D.C. for immigration reform. Now back to Miss bland, this woman was great and could tell first hand stories of the brutality African Americans faced when they organized in Selma wanting to march 54 miles to Montgomery. She shared her terrifying stories of beatings that brought tears to my eyes. This woman is truly remarkable. Aside from her personal experience she was holistically knowledgeable of Selma’s history. We paid a visit to the cemetery and to my horror found ourselves face to face with a 40 ft. monument to Robert E. Lee and a not-so-modest-bust in honor of ‘the defender of Selma” Nathan Bedford Forrest, a founding father of the Ku Klux Klan (who in one Civil War battle buried African Americans alive). I swear had I the means those two shrines to violent white supremacy would have come down, that’s how emotional I was. We then had the great honor to march the same march activists took over the Selma bridge and walk in the footsteps of the brave souls (who face firehouses, police dogs and police violence) before us. Today made me angry but it further incensed me and imbued the fact that the struggle must continue and the dream has yet to be realized…
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
More importantly, I have been inspired beyond measure. I want to attend law school and study public interests law. Before this trip I knew how important lawyers could be in the struggle for social justice. During this trip especially the visit to the aforementioned southern poverty law center, I've realized how lawyers are more of a crucial component than I even realized. Joanne Bland's tour reaffirmed my belief that an united group could make a dramatic change and there is something we all can do. So, even if I never make it to law school, I can still find a way to make a change in this world. While I do believe progress has been made, I know there is still a long road to travel. It would be a grave injustice to those who became before me to sit around and do nothing while the 'dream' has yet to be realized.
Then this afternoon, we went to Birmingham to tour the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. At this museum we were able to learn more about many of the places we already visited as well as a whole lot about the bombings and protests in Birmingham, specifically the bombing of 16th Street Baptist where 4 little girls were killed.
After touring the museum, a group of us went and sat on the steps of the church and discussed our thoughts on what we have learned so far and what we can do to continue the movement in our own ways. Someone inside the church saw our small group and invited us in to tour the church. My heart had that uneasy feeling that comes with knowing you are someplace something very awful has happened. We were able to see some of the orginal items including the clock that stopped at 10:22, the moment the bomb went off.
This day was very inspiring and I am so excited to know that the students on this trip are getting ready to find their own way to make the world a better and more fair place. I have no doubt that they will work to stop the hate that is still alive and well here in the USA.
Now that tour brought up alot of discussion within itself. I stood in the very same spot the Confedracy was founded and felt as though I saw the face of oppression. There were these murals depicting slaves SMILING...come on now. That wasn't even brought up by te tour guide when he talked about them (shakes head). Albeit the history of the building was rich and the architecture beautiful but the context was just not there, I mean this is where a struggle for civil rights begins (seeing as how activists had to fight something) and we never discussed how messed up it was.
Next we stopped by the Civil Rights memorial at the SPLC, this was a great overview of forgotten cases and faces of the civil rights struggle. Our guide was really knowledgeable and jer insight was greatly appreciated. After that we made our way to Dr. King's Church and saw where the man himself preached week in week out to no avail.
But the BEST part of the day was saved for last. We got to eat dinner with civil rights movement history themselves. I finally got to hear a perspective from white activists (who gave up their social status to help African Ameicans gain theirs).
Over all a great day and I left so much out :( I apologize for the horrible blog...I'm new to all this. bear with me
bed time, gotta be on the bus in 5 hours...