Shea’na Grigsby, community member: “Are you picking up what I’m putting down” is a phrase that consistently keeps coming to the forefront of my mind as this journey through the south continues. Having traveled for 5 days, seeing different places and hearing the stories, I am finally able to wrap my head around what it must have felt like to be a young African American woman in the south all those years ago. As much as I’ve tried to understand the struggles of the people before me it has never resonated this much and had such an impact as it has had witnessing these struggles where they actually took place. What I take for granted now, I would not have had a choice 50 years ago and it’s scary to think how unconscious I am in these “routines”. This trip has opened my eyes and has challenged me to not only be a better educator to the people I surround myself with but be a better self learner. I am excited for the possibilities that can help me pave my own destiny and look forward to taking advantage of opportunities that will continue to lay the foundation for the generations after I am gone. I would be doing myself and everyone before me a disservice by denying myself what I can freely do without question that people could have only dreamt of in the past.
Kau Guannu, freshman, psychology major: I was inspired by Madam C. J Walker. She rose through the ranks of her heritage to become the first African American self-made millionaire. Her mother and father were former slaves and she started out as a laborer and laundress. She didn’t let that discourage her. She set out to help women of her race all across America with her hair care line. She was generous and gave a lot of donations to historically black colleges and universities.
Ashley Perry, sophomore psychology major: Tougaloo College was built on a plantation. It was so ironic that the same place that broke down African Americans became a college that uplifted students. It reversed from a place where African Americans were nobody to a place where they were somebody. Walking around the campus, I kept thinking of Maya Angelou’s phrase from the poem, “Still I Rise.” She said, “I am the dream and the hope of the slave.” Just walking around I felt that phrase so strongly. Just by educating myself I have done that, I have lived the dream of my ancestors and many people that came before me.
Tyler McMillan, a junior communication major: It was important for me to be a student leader on this trip. When the opportunity was presented to me, I took it by the horns. We are learning about past activists and events that took place so we, the younger generation, can learn to become leaders. People like Medgar Evers, Hollis Watkins, and Flonzie Brown Wright, stick with me the most. Although they were young in the 1960s, they decided to make a difference. I want to be one of those people. It’s our time now.
Phoenix Cobb, sophomore, psychology major: I’m an African and African American Studies minor. I wanted to go on the trip because last year I took the Intro to Black America class and learned a lot about the civil rights movement. I wanted to see some of the places where it happened. As we visit each place, I can add to the discussion because of the class. For instance, when we talked about Viola Liuzzo, I knew why we have so much information about the event. The KKK thought they killed everyone in the car but one person was actually alive. He only had a concussion and later he testified against the murderers.
John Arthur, faculty member at UMD: Visiting Medgar Ever’s home was a chilling experience for me. I felt I was touching Medgar Ever’s spirit. Standing in his living room, bedroom, kitchen, and driveway where he was shot, I felt his pain. I felt his spirit telling me to fight on — aluta continua, which means the struggle for social justice continues.
Betty Greene, staff member at UMD and photographer for this blog: At the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) I was greatly moved by Flonzie Brown Wright’s story. When she was refused the right to vote by a man in the courthouse, she ran for the office of County Supervisor — and won! Her fierce determination changed the voter registration process and rules. One person can truly make a difference!