Why did I choose to be a student planner this year? After participating in the Civil Rights Pilgrimage Trip last year, I felt that it was only right to pay it forward and create an experience for a new cohort of students participating in the trip this year. Latrice, Youyou, LaQueisha, and I have been meeting with January every week to build an awesome experience this year and to improve the trip as much so that students obtain the full experience from the trip. This year, I planned out events that we would be participating in once we arrived to Greensboro, North Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia.
I planned a visit to the International Civil Rights Museum and Center in Downtown Greensboro to get students exposed to the journey that we would be taking for the week. Students were exposed to an awesome tour guide (who we truly have to thank for not holding back OUR history) who shared insights about the Greensboro Lunch Counter Sit-Ins and how this historical event sparked many other Sit-Ins across the Southern states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Virginia, Alabama, and so many more states. Our amazing tour guide also shared insight on the two-sided Coca-Cola machine, which was something that totally blew my mind when I witnessed it last year and blew the minds of the students who participated this year. On one side of the machine was an option for people to pay five cents for a bottle of Coca-Cola and on the other side of the machine was an option for people to pay ten cents, double the cost of the other side, for the same bottle of Coca-Cola. Believe it or not, the side that had the offer of paying five cents for the bottle of Coca-Cola was the side in a “Whites Only” waiting room and the other side of the machine was the side in a “Colored Only” waiting room. This just goes to show how there were separate spaces for Whites and Colored people, but not equal opportunity for all. Sitting back and observing students’ facial expressions was pretty shocking - because the students themselves had never seen anything like this and their facial expressions gave the look of them still trying to figure out how this was possible. Students were also able to see how separate but not equal buses in Greensboro and the South were with the “Whites Only” section of the bus having supportive straps for those who had to stand up opposed to not so supportive (really barely anything to support) straps in the “Colored Only” section of the bus. Students really received a culture and history shock as they walked past the hundreds of Black people’s mugshots after being arrested, White males painting their faces Black and carrying out performances and other ways that Black people were dehumanized during the Civil Rights Era.
I planned a visit to the Greensboro Historical Museum so that students can get a better background of how the city of Greensboro was during the Civil Rights Era and the background of the community. We noticed that the Sit-Ins played a huge role in the community of Greensboro and to identify the first Black student to integrate a college in the community of Greensboro in the Spring of 1962 and a school in the community in Fall of 1971. Students were really fascinated walking through the museum learning so much about America’s history that they had never heard, seen, or been taught in their “AP” American History course in high school. My logic behind planning to visit the museums in Greensboro were for students to be exposed to the injustices, acts of intolerance, and truly showcasing the “separate, but not equal” logic throughout the Civil Rights Movement. Students caught on very quick to my logic and purpose of visits to the museums.
When planning to visit museums and historical places in Atlanta, Georgia, I wanted to bridge the connection made in Greensboro to ways that the community back them uplifted themselves as well as shedding light away a bit from Civil Rights and thinking more about Human Rights and events to be more aware of occurring in today’s society. We visited Ebenezer Baptist Church, the church where Dr. Martin Luther King’s family preached to allow students to experience a Baptist church and how gospel songs and hymns uplifted the people and gave them #HOPE. Though many students did not identify with being a Christian or Baptist, they were still able to clap and hum to the songs sang during the 11:00 am service and the message which came from John 5:1-15. The message talked about creating who you want to be and to stop limiting who can get to God and many students were able to connect this scripture to limiting those who have the determination, passion, and willingness to step out on faith and fight for the rights we have today during the Civil Rights Movement. Many students even went up to the altar to receive a prayer to watch over them which truly touched my heart. We also ran into Dr. M.L. King's sister, Christine King-Ferris and one U of I alum who shared a great deal of history about the Civil Rights Movement as her parents played roles in supporting the leaders of the movement.
We then visited the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Downtown Atlanta which really gave students an idea of what Human Rights are. Students had never thought about human rights as this was something that was completely stripped away from slaves and Black people during the Civil Rights Movement. Students enjoyed this museum as this was a new stop on our trip this year. The museum was filled with so much information that I we needed more time to go through and interpret everything. Students really enjoyed the top level of the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Downtown Atlanta which touched a lot on human rights. They learned of current leaders who were mistreating people in different countries, Woman’s Rights, Transgender Rights, and so many more rights that we never truly think about that do not receive the proper respect, awareness, and equality in America today. having the opportunity to look at the original documents written in cursive by Dr. M.L. King Jr. and a beautiful picture that illustrated everything that we are still fighting for in today’s society truly hit home for many of our students.
Planning events for Greensboro and Atlanta allowing students to dive into the content of the trip as well as leading small group discussions to get students thinking outside of the box and challenging them to answer difficult questions is truly what I enjoyed the most about the trip. Before we broke off from the group, I always ask students the following questions which shows you the next leaders of tomorrow and the potential we have to one day change the world:
- Share your favorite thing that you learned or something that you still do not understand with the group.
- In one word, explain how you are feeling after today’s journey on the Civil Rights Pilgrimage Trip.
- What is #WhitePrivilege? Do other backgrounds/ethnic groups have a #Privilege that Whites do not have?