Recently, Hemisphere Educational Travel gave back to the SYTA Youth Foundation (SYF) and helped plan the details of a Silver Lining student trip involving the Civil Rights Trail in Alabama and students from an organization called Thread. Hemisphere team members Danny, Emily and Shelby share their takeaways from the trip—and why it was an important opportunity for students.
The SYF Silver Lining Program's mission is to recognize deserving students who have demonstrated through their action, intention or circumstance the desire to expand their awareness, creating a dramatic life change. When Hemisphere brought some of these deserving students along the Civil Rights Trail, they knew the experience would make an impact.
Learning about the past provides us with a barometer on how far we have come and where we still need to go. It’s easy to say we no longer have a problem in society, yet it’s also easy to see that segregation is remains rampant in many major cities and areas across the country.
“Learning about racial injustice in the ‘50s and ‘60s is extremely important to teach students because it shows how far we as a people have come—but also how much further we need to go,” said Shelby Basham, Educational Account Executive for Hemisphere Educational Travel.
“This pushes the idea that there is history still to be made and educating our youth is the first step to a better future,” Shelby adds. “Learning about the civil rights movement and going on this tour motivated and inspired students to continue to strive for liberty and justice for all.”
The tour took students to significant historic locations. Among them were the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, which addresses enslavement and modern mass incarceration, and 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, site of a bombing that killed four girls in the midst of the civil rights movement in 1963.
One site that had a lasting impact was Dexter Avenue Church, where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had his first and only full-time pastorate.
“Our tour guide, Wanda, was one of the most inspiring and engaging women I have ever encountered,” said Emily Michelin, Sales and Operations Supervisor for Hemisphere Educational Travel. “She had a representative from each group on the tour come to the front and introduce themselves. We all sang ‘This Little Light of Mine’ together and were instructed to hug the person to our left, which resulted in hugs all around the room.
“Wanda created an environment of love and acceptance and reminded us to love our neighbors and those who are different from ourselves—including some of our more marginalized communities like people with physical and mental disabilities and the LGBTQ community. She also stressed that other than Native Americans, we are all either immigrants or imports—soon-to-be-slaves brought over from Africa.”
Emily overheard an African-American student sitting behind her whisper, “I am not an import, I am important.”
Everyone in attendance experienced the message of love, acceptance and brotherhood Rev. King preached throughout his time at Dexter Avenue Church.
“I know our guide made a large impact on us all, especially the girl sitting behind me,” said Emily.
“All students should be allowed to believe their own importance in this world.”
The civil rights tour takes the somewhat uncomfortable topic of race and forces us to look at it head on. Being able to learn about history where it happened is an experience unlike any other.
“While reading and virtual learning have their place in education, nothing takes the place of standing in the place where history happened,” said Danny Lewandowki, Supplier and Client Relations Executive for Hemisphere Educational Travel.
“We are fortunate that given the American civil rights movement occurred in somewhat recent history, not only are we able to stand on hallowed ground, but we are able to talk and interact with people who were there and lived these historic moments.”
One guide in Selma told students they are “what we have been waiting for” and noted students today are the change-makers.
Learn more about SYTA Youth Foundation’s Silver Lining Program.
Courtesy of Hemisphere Educational Travel.