The end of June 2009 marked the beginning of another remarkable journey of discovery for students at Mercer Island and Franklin high schools. Through a unique year-long program known as the Multicultural Scholars Program, 24 students learned about racism, cultural diversity, intolerance and a world vastly different from their own. They engaged in classroom lectures and discussions about the Civil Rights movement, speaking engagements, a community service project and a school exchange throughout the year. Then, they flew to Montgomery, Alabama to embark on a Museum Without Walls field trip, traveling 54 miles to Selma, visiting the sites and learning from the great leaders of the Civil Rights movement. Program director Suzzanne Lacey writes:
“Selma is the heart of the Civil Rights trip. Almost every student will tell you that a ‘switch’ gets turned on for them in Selma. It’s not just being in a town seemingly unchanged by time. It’s not listening to Joanne Bland talking about being arrested 25 times by the age of 11 then watching, in horror, as her sister was beaten on Bloody Sunday. It’s not hearing eye witnesses speak about the march that officially gave everyone the right to vote back in 1965. It’s not the intense Slavery Museum simulation. Instead it is a culmination of all of it. The whole day is indescribable and utterly undefinable.”
The students reflected on their experiences on a daily blog. Here are some excerpts:
The several hours of the van ride to Selma Alabama was completely worth it. Selma to me, felt like the heart of the civil rights tour because their success was unfathomable. As I learned about the history of the movement I felt hurt by the amount of violence the “foot soldiers” had faced as the attempted to cross the Edmund Petus Bridge. I realized the amount of sacrifice the past generation had given for me so that I, as a human being could live my life with equal opportunity and not be attacked for my beliefs.
June 27, 2009
Today we went to the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. For me, the most interesting and inspiring part of our museum visit was the video about Billy Kyles, and the speech he presented to us afterwards. He was one of two preachers who were with Dr. King when he died. After the movie, we were all shocked to see the same Billy Kyles that we had just been watching on TV enter the room. He spoke of how the Civil Rights Movement was created completely by young adults, and asked us, “What will you be doing with your life by the time you’re 40?” He told us that there is no limit, not even the sky. I had never really considered that maybe I could make a difference, could be one to do something important, but Kyles inspired me to really strive to do something worthwhile with my life. We all have the potential to do something great, it just depends on whether or not we choose to use it.
June 26, 2009 Medgar Evers House
When entering Medgar’s home I felt a bad presence because his blood stains were left on the driveway. It got me thinking of how evil human beings can be. I preach for peace as much as I can. Yet a question always lingers in my head. Would there be peace without evil? I know the question can never be answered and it’s so hard to believe. I don’t understand how a human being can kill another because of the color of their skin. I can’t imagine what goes on in their heads. They are not sane, and it scares me to know that it can be anyone.
Today will always be significant in my life because I realized the struggles and hardships people had to go through for freedom.
The Multicultural Scholars Program was started in 2006 after a racially integrated group from Mercer Island Presbyterian and Madrona Presbyterian Church were inspired by their travels together on a Museum Without Walls civil rights trip to the Deep South. The first Multicultural Scholars field trip to the South occurred with 7 students from Rainier Beach High School and 9 students from Mercer Island High School. The students attended 6 three hour classes on Saturdays learning about African American history, from the 1700’s through the 1950’s and 1960’s Civil Rights movement to the present with Dr. Flora Wilson Bridges, a professor of African America History at Seattle University. In the fall and winter of 2006-07, they shared their experiences through peer education with fellow students in their high schools and to the Rainier and Mercer Island Rotary Clubs.
Now in it’s 4th summer, the Multicultural Scholars Program has introduced more than 60 students from two vastly different high school communities to “living history” through the Museum Without Walls trip. They learned to work together, respect each other, and develop friendships. As one student said, “I am honored that I got to meet the witness of Martin Luther King’s assassination, Reverend Kyles. I am honored I got the chance to meet Miss Joanne Bland who participated in the march of Selma at the age of 11. I am honored I got the chance to bond and communicate with friends I hopefully will stay in contact with forever.”