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The American South: Social Justice & Civil Rights

June 28-29, 2021

Hello from New Orleans, also known as the Crescent City, also known as N’awlins, also known as Bulbancha! The first day we jumped right into the swing of things in the Big Easy. For dinner we had New Orleans style hot dogs where we all had a chance to try the Gator dog! At dinner we were sitting outside until we felt a drop of water. Within seconds the sky opened up and we were hit with a huge rainstorm that only lasted a few minutes! Between the heat, humidity, rain, and gator dogs, it was clear we had made it to NOLA!

After dinner, we went back to our cabins on the Bayou where we saw live gators in the water surrounding our cabins!
The next morning we started our day off with team building activities in City Park and a canoe loop on the Bayou. We learned a little about the local ecology and also dodged a couple more flash rainstorms! For lunch we had a chance to try crawfish at a local restaurant. They said it was the last week they would be serving crawfish since the season was nearing its end! Then we went to the Backstreet museum and learned about the Mardi Gras Indians and saw their colorful and beaded suits! There was so much to talk about there – from second lines to jazz funerals to the history of the Mardi Gras Indians! Finally we went down to the French Quarter and with the Mighty Mississippi at our backs and the Natchez steamboat right behind us, we had some beignets and chicory coffee from Café du Monde and talked about our goals and hopes and dreams for this trip.

Before we headed back to our cabins for the evening we split into teams and had a chance to go through a scavenger hunt in the French Quarter where we learned a lot of new and exciting things from locals. Tomorrow we leave for Montgomery and we’re excited about what the rest of the trip holds for us.

June 30, 2021
Hello from Montgomery! We spent most of the day on the road playing card games, doing crafts, and listening to some tunes on the radio. We spent most of our time in the van. We made a brief stop for lunch and group activities at Bonita Lake State Park. After some more time in the car, we stopped to visit the extraordinary quilt makers of Gee’s Bend, Ms. MaryAnn showed us many of her intricate quilts, including one that was a tribute to Kobe Bryant. Their quilts have been showcased in museums across the nation. President Obama even received one while he was in office. We even made some quilts of our own using multi-color cloth. Many of us had not sewed before, this was definitely an informative and engaging experience. We then stopped for dinner in Selma. We had a picnic in eye sight of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. That concluded our activities for the day. We are definitely excited for what we have in store for tomorrow.
– Will and Alex

July 1, 2021
Wow, July rolled in fast! Today was a busy day, and we definitely learned a lot. We started off the morning by walking to the Rosa Parks museum. There were many interesting exhibits, including a live visual representation of Rosa Parks arrest. it was enlightening to watch event play out and it  was a great experience.
We then went to a park to eat our lunch, which was various Jamaican food including jerk chicken. A little later we headed to the legacy museum where we learned about the history of slavery, segregation, and Black incarceration.
We then walked to the Equal Justice Memorial where we further discussed racial issues with Mr. Trey Walk. We delved deeper into institutionalized racism within the justice system.
Finally we had pizza at Mellow Mushroom and ended the night by watching the documentary, A Foreigner’s Home, to further relate to what we had learned. Selma, here we come, tomorrow!

by Will and Alex

July 2, 2021

Today was a very full day including learning from some incredibly inspiring people with even more inspiring stories. We started off the day by meeting with Ms. Faya Rose Sanders Touré; she taught us first how Black history did not begin in slavery. It began in fact 25,000 years ago with Africa in the building of the very first pyramid.

With the addition of teaching us about the foot soldiers of the regular working people in support of famous activists who marched alongside them. She also taught us various songs she composed, with one of the most memorable lyrics being, “walking and talking, state of freedom on my mind.”

We then heard Ms. Annie Pearl Avery speak. She was one of the youngest marchers in Selma during the marches and was one of the only people to get arrested on Bloody Sunday. She told us many of her amazing stories and experiences during the time period of radical change. As she was, and is heavily part of the activism towards racial equality and voting rights in the past and present, she has some incredible stories.

From there, we made our way to Brown Chapel AME Church in the heart of Selma. There we began by eating lunch and speaking with Pastor Strong. He shared his experiences with his own spirituality and activism as well as speaking his wisdom to us about how he strongly believes in the power of values and personal beliefs.

Then he left and we spoke with Brother William Waheed about his similar stories and his differing religious beliefs. He also shared his wisdom in the form of instilling personal passion, in all of us for the better of our futures.

We then crossed the Edmund Pettus bridge, walking silently over the bridge and reflecting on all of the wonderful conversations we had just had in Selma.

Soon after our conversations with these amazing men, we expressed our urgent need for more food… So utilizing this, our leaders decided on That’s My Dog, Jr, an amazing restaurant with an even better story. Mr Charles Lee spoke of his nonprofit which was built to help out kids in the community. It was an enlightening perspective. He has set up an amazing place for young folks, giving them the opportunity to become something more than what they’re told, to follow their dreams, and adopt the mindset, “it’s okay to change,” and not having to stick to one path.

Mr. Charles has set up an incredible institute for the community of Alabama, teaching lifelong skills such as communication, entrepreneurship, and personal responsibility.

by Daisy and Malcom

July 3, 2021

Continuing after a day jam packed with wisdom, today was toned down. We started the day taking a walk through the EJI memorial. As we walked around looking at the names of those who were wrongfully prosecuted and lynched, it really hurt to see that many families were destroyed. Taking some time from our day to remember and acknowledge those who were killed, deeply impacted all of us. Following this we visited the capitol where we conducted a scavenger hunt in groups of three, learning several facts. On one of the Confederate monuments outside the capitol we learned that there are three different versions of the Confederate flag. After making our way out of Montgomery, we drove to Birmingham and visited the 16th Street Baptist Church. Here we learned the harsh story of 4 girls who were killed during a bombing of the church in 1963. One 11 year old and three 14 year olds were killed that day. One of the girls’ sister, Sarah Collins, was also in the bathroom where thankfully she survived but was still severely hurt. Two other boys, not related to the bombing ever also killed that day. The church makes sure to honor the boys’ memories so that they are never forgotten. We wrapped up the day by singing along to Frozen and playing games at the park. We even photo bombed some engagement photos that were happening in the park!
by Daisy and Malcolm

July 4, 2021

Happy 4th of July everyone! Today was not only busy but we also had lots of fun. This was the first day that we got to provide for the community through service work. We started the day in Birmingham’s Woodlawn neighborhood where we visited Community Kitchens, led by Mr. Randy. Randy told us the history of Woodlawn and talked about the many recent struggles the neighborhood has faced. After that, we got to work by reorganizing the storage closet, sweeping and mopping the floor, gardening and preparing the good food the unhoused people.

Once lunchtime arrived, we began serving BBQ chicken, mac n cheese, and collard greens to all the unhoused people including long-time Community Kitchens visitor, Rudy. We found out that Rudy was about to go to rehab and was making an effort to turn his line around. Congrats, Rudy!

After eating lunch at Community Kitchens, we headed over to Vulcan Park where we saw an amazing view of Birmingham. We then ate pizza at the park and ended the day by watching the Birmingham Barons minor league baseball game. Even though the Barons lost, we still had tons of fun as we watched a fireworks show and even got a free bat from one of the players!

by Henry and Justice

July 5, 2021
We’re finally in Memphis! We spent a lot of time in the car this morning. Eventually we arrived at the “world famous“ fried chicken restaurant called Gus’s. The “world famous” is debatable but it was great, nonetheless.

Then after walking through the incredibly notable Beale street, we made it to the National Civil Rights Museum where we viewed exhibits about civil rights and more, particularly Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his assassination at the Lorraine Motel on April 4th, 1968. The museum was both inspiring and sad and affected us all deeply.

Then we took some photos and moved on to our hostel where we met our lovely hosts.
by Henry and Justice

July 6, 2021
Hello from Memphis Tennessee! We started the day by heading over to Memphis Rox. While we were there we helped build a new garden bed, water plants, and sift dirt. After that, we ate lunch while the program leaders explained Memphis Rox’s vision and purpose to serve the impoverished community where they are located. We headed to the climbing gym and a group of students learned how to belay. All students got on the wall and tried climbing for 2 hours! We then went to the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum, learning how slaves traveled in the Underground Railroad and touring a house that hid runaways enslaved people. We then went to Central BBQ where we feasted on ribs, nachos, and mac and cheese. The day came to an end plying card games and socializing before bed!

By Diego and Miles

July 7, 2021
Day 2 in Memphis: Happy Wednesday! At the beginning of the day we headed over to Memphis Rox to clean up the neighborhood and to do a little more gardening. We then had lunch at Memphis Rox and reflected on the community service, acknowledging what it felt like to see the community up close and analyzing the “why” behind the amount of trash. We took a tour with One Family, the nonprofit branch of Memphis Rox, which has a pay what you can store and a woodworking studio. We headed to Sun Studio right after to take a private tour. We learned that many famous people such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Howlin’ Wolf recorded songs in the studio. We had some much needed downtime for a few hours, relaxing from the heat and the hustle and bustle. We ended our evening with a workshop from a woman who teaches storytelling in women’s jails. The workshop was problematic in many ways, from her white savior mentality to her lack of centering of the prisoners’ stories. We entered into a long debrief as group around her work, racism, institutional power, and real allyship. We also ate some “meh” BBQ, but maybe we are just getting spoiled?

By Diego and Miles

July 8, 2021
This morning we woke up, packed up the rest of our belongings, ate breakfast, and loaded in the van for our long day. We road tripped from Memphis to New Orleans. To break up our drive we stopped at Friendship Park in Jackson, Mississippi after driving for about 4 hours. We ate lunch at the park and played games. We headed over to the Medgar Evers home, he was the NAACP secretary and civil rights activist was shot in his driveway. We then went in search of pigs ear sandwiches, but didn’t find them. Local delicacy.
We were fortunate to be able to meet with the Chief of Staff for the city, Dr. Omari, and the mayors sister Ms. Lumumba. Having these inspirational and strong women talk about their experiences in Jackson and how they strongly believe in the power of community input, encouraged us to bring me some mentally back home. After a brief tour around the Jackson city hall, we said our goodbyes to Jackson and resumed our journey.
Around 2 hours later, we stopped for dinner, taking our time to eat outside and enjoy each other’s company. We had more hours of driving ahead of us to make to New Orleans. After many songs, laughs, and naps we pulled into Bayou Segnette and settled in for the night. Even though we were traveling for roughly 12 hours, we all had a great time and were happy to be back in a familiar place!
by Aubrey and Ava

July 9, 2021

This morning we all woke up to the sounds of birds chirping and frogs croaking. Prior to leaving the bayou we all got ready and ate breakfast together. Shortly after 9am we loaded into the van and drove to uptown New Orleans where we met with Mardi Gras Indians – the Big Chief Mr. Kendall, and Flag boys, Mr. Tank and Mr. Noonie. It was truly fascinating to hear about each tribe from current members especially since we had already been to the Backstreet Museum. At the Backstreet Museum we got our first introduction to Mardi Gras Indians and Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs. This visit gave us another glimpse into a central New Orleans tradition.

It was so beautiful to see the actual suits that tribes have worn in the past. The flag boy showed us a suit from the uptown warriors that represented the juxtaposition between Haiti and New Orleans and slaves and Native Indians.

We then got the opportunity to try our hand at this intricate beading. We all learned how to thread the needle and load the beads. After we heard more stories from the Big Chief and flag boys, we went to eat lunch at Cafe Reconcile. The restaurant is a non profit that provides job training to New Orleans residents in the culinary arts and front of house wait staff training. The food was amazing!

After lunch, we headed over to St. Roch neighborhood to participate in a drum circle led by Otura Mun, also known as Ifé. Ifé taught us about Shango and the religion of Yoruba, and the practice of Santeria. Being a part of this spiritual practice provided all of us with a deeper knowledge of community and music. Singing and playing all together was a great way to spend our afternoon!

Shortly after, we picked up New Orleans’ famous treat — snowballs! After choosing from a variety of either cream or ice flavors, we spent some time together until we finished our dessert and reloaded the van.

We returned to the bayou for some time to decompress before eating an amazing meal cooked by Anna and Alia. To finish off the night we watched a documentary that just came out, called Black Ice, which is about ice climbers from the Memphis Rox climbing gym where we did our community service. After movie night, we returned to our cabins for another night on the Bayou!

by Aubrey and Ava

July 10, 2021

Kicking off our second to last day we drove through scenic New Orleans to the Whitney Plantation. There we experienced an audio tour throughout the grounds. After discussing the great impacts it had upon us, we decompressed by going to a dance class at Dancing Grounds. The class was a Dance for Social Change class where we moved, wrote, and watched a documentary, called ‘Ye Heard Meh?’

Then continuing with the music theme we went to the Music Box Village where we learned about musical architecture from the co-founder Jay and the music director, Tiff. Music Box Village is a mish-mash house structure completely covered in musical objects, including pots and pans, trash, wind fans, and beyond. To close down the day we ate food cooked by us students.

By Mica