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Student Reflections: The American Civil Rights Nexus Trip

By: Madisen Patrick '19
“If we have the courage and tenacity of our forebears, who stood firmly like a rock against the lash of slavery, we shall find a way to do for our day what they did for theirs” - Mary McLeod Bethune An enormous United States Flag flew over a rest stop in South Carolina. So big, that as a group we all stopped in our steps to stare and watch the win whip it back and forth. The flag was capable of embracing and engulfing the fifteen of us multiple times. We looked up at the flag in comfort and honor, but the flag’s shadow did not foreshadow for us how small that flag reached around our ancestors. Our ancestors that had no rights; cast as outsiders with no other option but to stand up in the red, white, and blue to make the land of the free, free for me. 

The National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia appeared fresh with its 21st-century architecture and advanced technology outside. The appeal did not last long; as you entered into the museum you saw nothing but the painful and true reality of the Civil Rights Movement. It was not clean or nice. It was not pretty or cute. It was brutal to the point of murder. It was inhuman to the point of animalistic actions. It was peace fighting against hate. I experienced this fight in the museum with a real-life simulation of the Greensboro “sit-ins” in 1960. The Greensboro sit-in consisted of college students walking up to a whites-only lunch counter and when refused service, the students sat patiently despite threats. My eyes closed, hands flat on the counter in front of me and headphones on my ears, I was placed into other eighteen-year-olds shoes only 60 years ago. The shouting, the name-calling, and the vibration of the seat imitating the abuse, left me astonished and mentally hurt. As I comforted one of my closest friends, I started to cry as well. The tears were not out of fear, but out of honor and respect. I cried for my ancestors unknown. I cried for my great- grandparents, my grandparents, my mother and my father. I cried the tears they were unable to shed because of how strong they had to be. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1967 stated that “being a Negro in America means trying to smile when you want to cry.” At that moment, I could not imagine smiling and sitting still through the hatred I heard from the voices in the headset. I could not imagine a smile that strong. 

Venturing next to Selma, Alabama, I did not know what to expect. Our tour guide, Sam Walker, was eleven years old when he participated in the march from Selma to Montgomery. He first showed us the Edmund Pettus Bridge; I gazed down from the peak and tried to imagine a barricade of police with arms crossed, gas masks, and wooden batons. My hands were empty, no protection from anything that threatened my life. How could the protesters move forward? How could they after seeing a barrier they could not pass? After showing us the bridge, our tour guide then became our oppressor as we were taken through a real-life experience of being a slave. Our names, history, and identity were erased. He yelled and threatened us, but nothing compared to when he took four of our classmates away. He then led the rest of us around a corner and there we saw Clyde Bailey, Gregory Melvin, Paris Beale, and Nadia Norman each with a noose around their necks. My chest caved in, my heart raced, and tears leaked from my eyes. The pain and traumatization I felt from imagining my friends being hanged put into perspective what my ancestors went through. The emotions I felt from a simulated experience were real. 

Fifty-four miles later in Montgomery, we observed the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, National Memorial for Peace and Justice, and Freedom Rides Museum. After viewing these museums, I felt reverence towards those that had come before me and made the life-threatening choice to make a difference. I began to realize the impact of these events on myself. I was left humbled to live the life I am living: being able to go to a private school, walk on the sidewalk without fear, freedom of speech, vote, eat at any restaurant, and live free. It made me deny the idea of this ever happening in America again. The trip showed me how far this country has come and how far it has yet to go. It made me feel stronger and gives me courage to stand up when I witness injustice. It validated the honor and pride I have for being an African American. It made me prouder to be an American. 

With the Cape Henry Collegiate Nexus program, I have traveled around the world to Norway, Panama, and Israel. But the Civil Rights Nexus trip to see and learn the truth of America’s past, has been the most impactful and life-changing Nexus trip I have ever had the opportunity to participate in. It allowed me to learn and comprehend my history, and with that came learning more about myself.
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