by Alexander Calafiura
The Peace Memorial: A memorial dedicated to every lynching victim in America.
Credit: The New Yorker
"Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope." - Martin Luther King Jr. Despite centuries of brutal slavery, institutionalized bigotry, and systematic segregation, the torch of self liberation and individual freedom has stayed strong. During the Civil Rights movements, monumental figures like Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, and Rosa Parks have directly battled for Black liberation and the liberation of all peoples. With their actions, they have inspired and encouraged the next generation to continue the fight."
The Facing History Trip:
Recently, our principal Mark Federman and nine other teachers/staff organized a weeklong Civil Rights focused trip to the Deep South. Thirty-five East Side students from the 9th-11th grade had the opportunity to go to Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama to explore the history and prevalence of the battle for Civil Rights.
On the trip, we went to national museums, monuments, and even met people who were personally involved with the movement. We toured historically Black universities and churches– extremely significant focal points of the movement. It was a dark, heavy, and deep experience, but it was necessary for us as young people to experience it.
To pass on the lessons they learned during the trip, I interviewed two students and one teacher about their personal experiences throughout the exciting yet difficult week. Hopefully you find their responses informative and enlightening!
QUESTION 1: What lessons have you learned from the Facing History trip?
Marlowe Demisch (10th grader): I learned what it means to be an upstander and how young people can have some of the most lasting effects on social issues. I learned firsthand how racism has affected people in history– before I understood that racism was bad, but I had never really been aware of the severity of the issue (the brutality of the system, etc). The trip was an experience that really spoke to my soul.
Yolanda Betances (10th grade history teacher): I think the most important lesson for me is just identifying and reaffirming my own personal voice and speaking for others– making sure that I understand and validate the fact that I am entitled to respect and rights and privileges that are taken for granted, including rights and privileges that have been denied to others historically and how important it is to fight for those rights.
Deangelo Polanco (10th grader): Basically a main thing that I learned from the trip was that the North won the war and the South created the narrative that it wasn’t about slavery so they could continue to segregate and oppress Black people.
QUESTION 2: What stuck out to you the most during the trip?
Me: One experience that really stuck out to me was meeting Mrs. Joanne Bland, who had been directly engaged with the movement. When she was only eleven years old, she had already been arrested thirteen times for protesting. At that age, she also participated in the march from Selma to Montgomery (Bloody Sunday) , a historic event that dealt a crucial blow to segregation in Alabama. It was such a meaningful experience because I had never met anyone who had actually taken part in essential real, important, and undeniable history in America.
Marlowe Demisch: Definitely the trip to Selma, where we met the two people who had been directly involved during the march from Selma to Montgomery (Joanne Bland and Lynda Blackmon Lowery).
Yolanda Betances: I would say the Legacy Museum was absolutely impactful and meaningful to me, in just how it presented enslavement of people and then enslavement through mass incarceration– the pattern in that. It was an emotional time for me personally to go through that museum and I think that honoring the names of those that were targeted and victimized through systems of oppression in this country is important– connected to that was being able to go to the Peace Memorial and see the victims of lynching and their names posted there. Overwhelming, I’m just gonna say.
Each one of those markers– especially the one for El Persons who was lynched in that area– I’m just looking back in time and I can’t even imagine how sad and costly it was to the lives of so many people.
Deangelo Polanco: What stood out to me the most was how much people were involved and impacted by the movements– and what I found mad crazy was how many people died from the lynchings in the Peace Memorial.
QUESTION 3: What are you excited about moving forward (after the trip)?
Marlowe Demisch: I feel lucky to have had this experience, and I want to share it with more people and become more of a leader!
Yolanda Betances: I’m fired up about voting and trying to make sure that we resist any instances of voter suppression. It is pivotal that we pay attention to what’s happening in different states where there are laws, mandates that have been passed in order to barr people from exercising their right to vote, and whatever candidate that I can support that is fighting to stop voter suppression– it is just so important, otherwise what would we have as a democracy?
Discourage people from voting– people you vote in are supposed to represent you. People want to make sure that we don’t have a say– there is an agenda.
Deangelo Polanco: I’m mostly excited about the knowledge I can give to others about what I learned about the trip.
Reflection and Next Steps:
This trip was an amazing, unforgettable experience. I would like to thank Mark Federman and all the staff at East Side that made this trip possible because it was truly an incredibly transformative learning experience. I can speak for everybody when I say that this trip was life changing.
Moving forward, participants of the Facing History trip will continue to learn about the Civil Rights movement and use their lessons to educate and guide other students at East Side. We will learn to be better listeners, emphasizers, and advocates for all people struggling for liberty in modern America. Students of the trip will participate in trainings and workshops next year to pass the torch on. We will impart everything that we have learned to make sure that East Side is more critically conscious and aware of the true brutality of racism and its impact on the world today. We will change the world– and it all starts in our community.
Pictures from the Trip:
Caption: Beale Street in Memphis Tennessee that contains a powerful musical legacy for the Blues and music legends.
Caption: The spot where Rosa Parks got onto the bus that changed history (Montgomery, Alabama)
Caption: A memorial to the events in the life of MLK Jr. (Montgomery, Alabama)
Caption: Facing History memorial to Civil Rights leaders and upstanders (Memphis Tennessee)
Caption: Civil Rights Museum, in response to the intense brutality against Black people in America (Birmingham, Alabama)