Sunday, May 7th
Sunday was a day of getting to know the students from Rochester and New Haven by playing name games, a lockbox challenge, and playing outdoors. The group of 26 became fast friends. After dinner, Emma and her partner from Ezra presented their project on Selma in preparation for our trip to Selma on Tuesday. Emma and Eli shared what they had learned about Selma’s history including the marches from Selma to Montgomery.
Monday, May 8th
After morning prayers, Dr. Martha Bouyer gave a very informative and moving presentation concerning Birmingham’s history with the Civil Rights Movement. She played music from the time period that reflected the African-Americans’ hopes for a brighter future and how they were not going to wait any longer for equal rights. She showed videos of the abuse the African-Americans and white supporters suffered during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s including the use of dogs and fire hoses. Dr. Bouyer used artifacts and primary sources from this time to help the students gain a better understanding of the climate of the deep South. She also incorporated a tug of war between those who supported Civil Rights and those who opposed them by using a rope very similar to one that would be used for lynchings. Needless to say, the Civil Rights side one without a single tug.
Next the N. E. Miles Day School’s eighth graders shared a documentary they made when they were in sixth grade called, Names, not Numbers. In the documentary the students interviewed survivors of the Holocaust who lived in the Birmingham area. It was a very well documentary in which the survivors spoke of their life before, during, and after the Holocaust. During lunch, the students had table conversations around what they had learned and what their feelings were based on the topics covered in the documentary.
After lunch, we went to the Holocaust Education Center where the students viewed an exhibit of art work and photographs of the same survivors from the documentary. After looking at the art work and reading the stories about the survivors, the students also engaged in a very deep conversation and debate on the definition of Holocaust as seen by Yad Vashem and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Our next stop was the Kelly Ingram Park (formerly West Park) which is the memorial park to the first mass beatings of the Freedom Riders. There were many statues throughout the park that depicted this what the African-Americans went through to gain their rights in Birmingham. This was very powerful for the students to see since they had just heard Dr. Bouyers speak. They were able to connect what they had learned to the actual place where it all happened.
The students also met Joel Rotenstreich who worked to have a horse chestnut tree planted in the Kelly Ingram Park to commemorate Anne Frank as a dedication to the victims of intolerance and discrimination.
We then returned to N.E. Miles Day School for some down time. The kids played soccer, basketball and chess as a way to unwind. They then spent 20 minutes reflecting on their day by writing in their journals.
After a wonderful dinner of hotdogs and chips, we were off to the baseball game! The students really enjoyed spending time with their new friends at the game. This provided a great platform for the students to really relax and laugh.
Now we are all back with our host families, settling down for a good night’s sleep before going to Selma tomorrow.