Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Days Three and Four

The last two days of the trip have been very interesting for me to say the least. Tuskegee was phenomenal. The history in the small town was incredible. I didn't think it was possible for such a small town to have so much history and such a big impact on the civil rights movement. We visited Tuskegee University which is a Historically Black College/University. I’m a little embarrassed to say this, but I had no idea what a HBCU was before I visited Tuskegee and I think that is because I never had to consider the racial environment of a college I was going to attend. I was confronted with the privilege bestowed upon me, unwittingly, because of my race. I was stunned by the environment on the Tuskegee campus. For the first time I was a minority on a college campus and I didn't feel anything but welcomed. And I wished desperately that every minority could feel as welcomed as I did on that campus. I realize it is within my power to make that happen, and I intend to. The visit there made me reexamine how students treat others on our campus. I know that U of I is a big campus, much bigger than Tuskegee, and that makes connecting with people difficult; but I think that we as students on this trip could do more to make people feel welcome and accepted.
The history on the Tuskegee campus was unbelievable. The original buildings on that campus were built by the faculty and students who first went there. Such a dedication to receiving an education made me wonder how much more I could be doing for my education and the education of others. You can feel the history that surrounds that university. It is everywhere. And I think that’s why the community is so strong there as well. The students on campus bond over the history that took place there and then attempt to build upon it. I think if U of I could emulate even half of that energy our campus would be a different place. I think too often the history of our campus is swept under the rug or ignored. It should be confronted and we should build upon it and strive for a better future.

Today we spent the day in Montgomery. This is an interesting city to say the very least. I don’t think I realized that the history of the Confederacy of the United States was still so overvalued  here. Yes, the confederacy is a part of American history and the history of Alabama, and it needs to be confronted and remembered so that we never go back to such an ugly time. But I don’t think that placing confederate flags in the working capital and having a monument to the confederacy in front of the working capital is the way to move forward. In fact, to me, it just illustrates how much the confederacy still has a hold on this part of the country. And that saddens me greatly. In this city, were so much was done for civil rights of all Americans, the state still deems it appropriate to fly the confederate flag. This is a strange place indeed; it is a place were a wonderful organization like the Southern Poverty Law Center can exist two blocks away from a state capital with more institutionalized racism than I have ever encountered. This, more than anything, inspired me to create change and to work with an organization like the SPLC. It is within my power, and the power of the students on this trip, to change the state of these states. I can try to create an environment where flying confederate flags in repugnant everywhere. To me it almost feels like the capital (and perhaps those who work there) was clinging to the edifice of an ugly (but apparently proud ) past. I think its high time we all move forward. 

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