Busy Bees: Insights Beyond Newark – Trip to the South

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Busy Bees: Insights Beyond Newark – Trip to the South

During a visit to the South, SBP students toured iconic sites in the Civil Rights movement, including statues in Kelly Ingram Park.

During a visit to the South, SBP students toured iconic sites in the Civil Rights movement, including statues in Kelly Ingram Park.

Mike Scanlan

During a visit to the South, SBP students toured iconic sites in the Civil Rights movement, including statues in Kelly Ingram Park.

Mike Scanlan

Mike Scanlan

During a visit to the South, SBP students toured iconic sites in the Civil Rights movement, including statues in Kelly Ingram Park.

Jonathan Dulce, Editor-in-Chief

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I walk into a housing building late at night, one of nine students.We are tired, angry, conflicted and, after a long day of observing the atrocities of racism committed in the United States in the past and present, deflated. 

We have been visiting places like the Lynching Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, which documents the hundreds of thousands of innocent black people who were lynched ,  and Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham, Alabama where children were hosed by police, as well as mauled by police dogs. When sharing our thoughts about the things that we witnessed, we expressed our discontent in different ways. Some of us were enraged. Some of us were in disbelief.  And some of us were plain disappointed at the history of hate in America.

What we all had in common was the understanding that the knowledge we were gaining was imperative to our education. This was a mindset that we adopted from the beginning.

Our trip began as an idea that Mike Scanlan H’97 had many years ago when he filmed a documentary in Clarksdale, Mississippi. The concept was to take kids on a trip to the American Deep South and visit sites central to the history of the Civil Rights Movement. He wanted students to study the culture of the region and observe how all citizens have been affected by racism.

Years later, Mr. Scanlan’s  idea came to fruition. Of course, this idea could not be realized without work and planning. Students who were interested in the project had to do an interview with Dr. Lansang and Mr. Scanlan about why they wanted to do the project and what they would be bringing to the table as a member of the group. 

Mr. Scanlan alerted the group he had selected via email. The group included: Kevin Jackson SY; Zion Graham ‘21, Elijah Allen-Smith ‘19;  Ny’Gee Green ‘19; Jules Gouton ‘19; Jesus Paulino ‘19; Juan Perez ‘19; Wood-May Joseph ‘19, and me.

I was excited for the course and ready to start, but I had no idea that the trip would be so emotionally taxing.

 Once enrolled for the project, we met regularly with Mr. Scanlan and Dr. Dennis Lansang, the Chemistry teacher here at St. Benedict’s. We watched videos such as Billie Holiday’s singing the protest poem “Strange Fruit” about thousands of lynchings of innocent African Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We also read Timothy Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till” to get a sense of the racial tension that has existed in the past. 

Despite our thorough preparation,  nothing could have prepared us for what we would experience on this trip.

When we made our way to our first visit, to Kelly Ingram Park, the history hit me hard. I wasn’t expecting to get bombarded with the emotions that I was dealing with. I was angry that this type of thing happened in America and distraught at the fact that there are still people who support those actions.  Seeing the statues of dogs biting children younger than me and kids almost half my age being hosed by grown men struck a nerve in me. I wondered how people can have so much hate in their hearts that would lead them to do such a disgusting thing. I wondered if I would have shown the same bravery that those kids showed back then if I were in their predicament. 

This visit, along with our visits to the 16th Street Baptist Church, Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Edmund Pettus Bridge really put me in the middle of these bleak times in history. The only consolation that I feel I took from it is that we are still here and we made it through those times. The reason why we included these places in our trip is that they are all actual sites where major Civil Rights events took place. The bombing that killed four little girls in 1963 happened at 16th Street Baptist Church. A march led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965 ended with the beating of many protesters on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. At Southern Poverty Law Center we learned about how they combat hate groups by suing and draining them of all their money.

Mike Scanlan
We toured through the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The experiences that we had with the people in the south was remarkable. The term ‘Southern Hospitality’ was really embodied by many. We had complete strangers waving at us and asking us where we were coming from, a rare occurrence for people from the North. The people who we actually went into deep conversation with held nothing back from us when it came to their problems in the south including lack of schooling, modern segregation, and racial tensions.

It was especially amazing because we were able to relate their problems in the south to our problems in the north and come to the realization that all of America is pretty much in the same boat, no matter where a person is located. The person who stood out to me was Alaina Elgin, a white admissions worker from Birmingham Southern College. She spoke explicitly about economic segregation in Birmingham, and how she grew up being looked at differently for having black friends. Also, Mr. Joe O’Quinn of the Society of St. Edmund who is from Selma, Alabama, gave us an entire presentation about how Selma’s segregation has crippled the town’s educational and economic situation. He spoke about how these problems are a result of the history of racism in Selma and how some people have an inability to move on from the past.

Mike Scanlan
Mr. Joe O’Quinn of the Society of St. Edmund tells us about the situation in Selma.

This experience changed me for the better. I realized that though we may live in different parts of the country, the people of the North and South have the exact same problems. Even though they show up in different ways, I realized that racism and segregation have always been problems in America, and not just in the South. With the experience of being in the South where the Civil Rights Movement actually happened, I was able to take away a piece of my history as an African American.

Amazingly, I was able to absorb all this with my St. Benedict’s brothers on the trip.

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