Friday, March 20, 2009

Chipo's Trip

Wow, ok. So it's over and I'm in shock and experiencing signs of withdrawal, I miss all of you guys. Um, this is a sort of summary of my trip and how I felt along the way


Today we visited Little Rock High School and I didn't feel anything. I didn't feel any major sorrow, any shock or surprise, I just didn't feel anything. I was like shame (which means I'm sorry in South African English), spit, but then it was like eh, oh well. I guess I'm desensitized, having grown up in South Africa, in a time quite similar to the era just after the Civil Rights movement. So it isn't to strange for me to have been the first black family in an area, or for stones to be thrown at me because I'm black.

When we went to the Dunbar museum, what struck me then was that most of these people looked white and I was like, Oh.
Another product of South Africa is that because people were graded on how close to white they were, I find it difficult to accept that people who are almost white and people who are black can be treated the same way.

Day 2
Worship at the historically black church was such a culture shock to me, though I'm black , because I'm South African , I'd never experienced something like that before. Lunch in Memphis was pretty good; I ate catfish for the first time and discovered that it tastes much better when you eat it with your hands.

The National Civil Rights museum was pretty legit and I really enjoyed our awesome tour guide. For me, it was the first time I'd heard a lot of the information and I thought it was exciting and new.

My favourite part about Memphis though, has to be Beale Street. We had an absolute ball there when we were given free time and I feel it really allowed me to start connecting with the people I was travelling with. We danced and sang karaoke at what must have been the most talented karaoke night in America; the people who sang were phenomenal. We also had some of our own singing notes I never thought I'd hear.


We were in Oxford and wow, it was intense. This was where our group (group 3) experienced The Heated Debate, it was intense, but that one has its own blog. The rest of Oxford wasn't as intense though and it’s a beautiful little town with ridiculously overpriced clothing stores and a really fun bookshop chain thing. It was great. They also had this really cool diner called Ajax where I deep fried eggplant which was pretty cool.
On the way out of Mississippi we stopped at this gas station and I had a conversation with the attendant and when I asked about racism, she said it was still very prevalent and that people often refused to be served by her and that in fact someone had lied to her manager that very day because she was black. When I said we were going to Alabama she said she was sorry, as it was worse there...

Day 4

Birmingham, Alabama was amazing the Civil Rights Institute was my favourite of all the museums we went to, and we went to quite a few. The other cool part of Birmingham was free time when we walked all over the city, it was amazing. We had this really awesome group with Syntche, Rachana, Chey, Lei, Lauren and I. We walked down the historical black district into these cool barbershops and just talked to people. We walked into this one ghetto fabulous store selling everything from fake hair to grillz, it was awesome. I met this guy at the store and asked him about the race situation in Alabama and he told me, how he felt his race had affected the quality of his education, how he'd felt entering the army was his only way to escape becoming a lay about at home, how at one point in time he'd worked 16hours a day to make $900 a week and how he was moving to Tennessee to escape because maybe change would come faster then.

Day 5

Selma was so cool, oh my gosh, we did this tour of Selma and walked across the bridge, it was great. The best part however, was when we went on this slavery simulation. It was phenomenal. It was one of the first times I really connected with the struggle of America's African American population. It just changed my perspective. It made me realize that we need to start racial reconciliation in South Africa now, because if we don't in forty years we'll have what America has. Where most of the majority are totally disconnected from the situation and its affects are something the minority groups feel daily.

Day 6

Montgomery was a lot intense. We went to four museums in one day, it was crazy. However, the first museum, the Southern Poverty Law Center was a real eye opener to the kind of discrimination going on today and to the forgotten heroes of the Civil Rights movement. Their wall of tolerance however, was what really challenged me because I didn't know whether to sign it or not. As someone who has faced a lot of discrimination, it's one of my main goals in life to learn to value people regardless of their age, race, gender or sexual orientation. But I was afraid to sign the wall because I was afraid people would take it to mean that I was in support of things I don't agree with. I believe that people should be allowed to do what they would like as long as it doesn't harm anyone else, but that doesn't mean I will support it or be in favour of it. So I didn't sign the wall and I'm still not sure whether that was the right choice or not.

Day 7

Was a rather interesting day, we had a bus accident (someone scrapped the bus whilst trying to change lanes) so our panel discussion for that day was cancelled. But we did get to have an awesome night in New Orleans eating benets and celebrating as bears when Baylor won their basketball games.

Day 8

This was a real eye opener because I didn't believe this could happen in America. I couldn't believe that 3years after Katrina, people could be living in a hollowed out shell of a house and that the poorer areas could be left relatively unchanged since the disaster.
It was awesome to be able to do a little something, but it made me feel sad to leave when there was still so much left to do.
On a brighter note though NO was fun for so many other reasons. I got to eat an amazing Oyster po'boy which is basically a deep fried oyster sandwich, one word = Awesome. Our planned night out in NO went a little pear shaped though, because it was pouring and we sort of ended up walking for a mile and a half going to a place we didn't even end up going. But then we danced in the rain, had benets and coffee for dinner and danced on Bourbon St. picking up beads and roses in true NO style. It was a good night.

Day 9

The last day of our trip was where I realised just how awesome it had had been and just how much I didn’t want to leave, but hey. The highlights of the day where when we stopped at Rachana's parents Shipley's and they gave us free reign of the doughnut shop allowing us to get whatever we wanted. Thank you so much Mr. & Mrs. Chhin. As well as this really awesome contemplative worship session that C Mac led us in.
The most awesome parts of the trip though were things like playing catchphrase til the early hours of the morning and having awesome conversations with people I would never have met any other way. This trip changed my life, it’s been amazing and taught me so much about myself and others, changing my world view . . .
Thank you everyone who made this possible and to everyone who participated, you've changed my world
beep beep beep....

Sunday, March 15, 2009


So I'm sitting in bed Sunday night, not really believing everything I've learned the past week.  I signed up for this trip last-minute and am SO incredibly glad I went.  It's definitely the best trip I've taken in college.  We learned in the best way to learn -- experiencing.  But even more than going to the museums and hearing people speak and even going through a simulation, I think I learned the most from our small group discussions/q&a time.  I knew one person in my group ahead of time, but now feel a connection with all of my group members and every person on the trip.  It was refreshing to get to know a group of people so different from myself.  Yet each person shared one thing: a desire to learn about how everyday people, such as ourselves, stood up and spoke out against injustice; beginning a movement that still exists today.  Everyone brought something great to the table, and I honestly loved getting to know everyone on the trip!  

Everyone's background, individual thoughts, and emotions helped form the great discussions we had.  I can't wait to hang out with everyone again and already miss everybody!  I mean, its been less than 12 hours, but can you blame me?  I close my eyes and feel like I'm on a bus, but that's okay.  

Sidles equals best bus driver ever.

Love you all!


3 Years After Hurricane Katrina

Yesterday we volunteered at a home that had been affected by Hurricane Katrina. It was one of the most rewarding and disappointing experiences I have had in awhile. It felt great to be able to help a family that really needed help in getting their home back in order. The house was rewired so that it could have electricity, insulation and dry wall was put up, there were fence post holes were dug, the decaying gutter was removed, and the inside of the house was tidied up. There was a sense of accomplishment as we completed various tasks.

However, it was disappointing that for as much work as we had done there was still so much that was needed. I'm not just speaking about that particular home, but in the entire city of New Orleans. With as much rebuilding that was going on, there was like 3 times as much that wasn't happening. The neighborhood we were in was so empty. There were no people just hanging out and socializing on the street; there were no children riding bikes and playing around. It was like the neighborhood was simply a ghost town. Life had left the neighborhood and I'm not sure if it'll ever completely return. I truly wonder if the city of New Orleans will ever be the way it was.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Things that inspire

Southern Poverty Law Center - 
Water memorial outside designed by Maya Lin that honors 40 individuals who helped make the CRM a success.  Water has been symbolic overtime for so many things, but I think it has great symbolism for healing.  The inside was interesting and wasn't information overload.  After seeing everything we've seen so far, it helped tie everything together ... but it also told a few of the many untold stories.  
Cool documentary shown ahead of time, "Faces in the Water", which began with the powerful story of Emmett Till, but also of others such as Jimmy Lee and Viola Gregg.  

Quote on wall: "We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim." 
-Elie Wiesel

Interesting thoughts from tour guide: 
-We all have the propensity to operate on some prejudices.  Racism is institutionally based, but prejudice is more human nature.
-Remember... being the target of oppression or on the privileged side is always interchangeable.  

Rosa Parks Museum:
Boycott lasted 381 days.  That's a freakin long time to walk.  And an even longer time to lose $3,000 each day from African Americans not using the bus system.

From You Stood Up - Rosa Parks poem by TJ Gardner Jr:
Sometimes one small act of courage
However hopeless, yet in a just endeavor
May have the power to vanquish tyranny
And change the world forever

We know that physical acts of violence 
As history has revealed
Are never as effective 
As defiance of the will.

-- I love that last line.

If you're reading this, google MLK's Epiphany right now.  The most powerful thing I've read the whole trip.

Other quotes from the Parks museum:
"One feels history is being made in Montgomery these days.  It's hard to imagine a soul so dead, a heart so hard, a vision so blinded and provincial as not to be awed with admiration and the quiet dignity discipline and dedication with which the negroes conducted the boycott." 
- Juliette Morgan, young, white librarian in letter to Montgomery Advertiser

"... That's how it was and that's why I walked.  I wanted to be one of them that tried to make it better.  I didn't want somebody else to make it better for me." - Gussi Nesbitt

" It's a feeling that makes you feel American.  America is a great country and we're doing something to make it better." - Jo Ann Robinson

Baylor Civil Rights Tour, Group #2, Mar-13th

Ahh…Naw’lins (New Orleans ☺)! What a day it has been! The Baylor Civil Rights Tour arrived in Louisiana this evening as we head into the final leg of our trip. We left Montgomery, Alabama this morning and moved west through Mississippi, hugging the Gulf Coast

During the bus ride, our individual groups were brainstorming possible questions that we could ask the Tulane University panel with issues concerning Katrina, race, rebuilding, etc:

What approach was the new governor, Bobby Jindal, taking towards rebuilding? Has the predicted demographic change surfaced after Katrina with many African-Americans resettling in different states and being replaced Hispanics laborers coming in through government contractors, etc.? How have other minority groups been affected by Katrina? I am reminded of the last question by the election of the first Vietnamese Congressman, Joseph Ahn Cao of Louisiana, who is a Baylor Alum I might add.

Unfortunately, we had a minor accident on the road that set us back an hour or two and we missed our panel discussion! I was really looking forward to the panel! But alas, we couldn’t.

But all was not lost. One of Karin’s old friends gave us a tour of New Orleans. It was a worthwhile experience to see the wide diversity in New Orleans and how parts of the city were picking up from the Hurricane. The French/Colonial architecture was sometimes especially beautiful. There certainly has been progress, but much more needs to be done because some areas still are in pretty bad shape (lower ninth ward) or destroyed altogether.

For dinner we went to a Remoulade’s, a Cajun restaurant, to taste the local food. Woo-wee! One of the best things about Lousiana is the cuisine, and it certainly did not disappoint. Gumbo, jambalaya, meat pies, the best seafood…definitely some good stuff.

Our group split up after that and walked through the French Quarter. The nightlife was certainly vibrant and one can only imagine what happens during Mardi Gras or St. Patrick’s Day. There were many different establishments, some of questionable nature, but nonetheless offering something for mostly everyone. The mix of crowds, music, food, and both affluence and want gave this part of Naw’lins a flavor all its own.

Now we’re on the bus and heading back to Slidell, LA to rest up for the night as I type this. We’ll need rest because tomorrow we’ll be working with Katrina Corps on some rebuilding projects. Until next time!


Recap of the past two days

Yesterday we were in the city of Montgomery, Alabama. We visited the Civil Rights Museum, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, the patronage of Martin Luther King Jr. and his family, and the Rosa Parks Museum. I really enjoyed the Civil Rights Museum and Southern Poverty Law Center. They focused not only on taking a stand African-American civil rights, but also the civil rights of all people (Middle Eastern, women, gays & lesbians, etc). I think Elie Wiesel said it best when he said "We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented".

I saw one picture in there that just hurt my heart; it was a small child (around 2 or 3 years old) dressed in a KKK robe and touching the riot shield of an African-American police officer. I just don't understand how anyone could teach their child to hate at such a young age. I suppose it's the same way people teach their kids to love and be tolerant at a young age.

One thing I find interesting is that Rosa Parks has an entire museum dedicated to her. It's interesting to me that a person who physically did so little for the movement came to the status of fame that she did. Now, before you get upset, I'm not saying that she was not important to the movement, but that it's just interesting to me that there were so many other people that gave
up so much for the movement and they have not received the kind of recognition that she has. I believe that Rosa Parks was not necessarily essential to the movement, but she played an important factor in the speed of the movement.

So today is our first day in New Orleans and it has been an interesting day. We watched When the Levees Broke by Spike Lee on the way down from Montgomery. It was definitely an interesting film to watch. It talked about the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the different residents of New Orleans. It was hard to watch sometimes because of the pain you could hear in the people's voices and the pain you could see on their face. They were just hurt and felt betrayed by their own government; the same government that is suppose to protect them and watch out for them. The question has been brought up on several occasions of whether help would have came sooner if the majority of the people would have been Caucasian. I honestly don't think it had to do so much with race as with socioeconomic status (SES). The areas that were hit the hardest were the Ninth Ward (especially the Lower Ninth Ward) and the Lakeview area. It just so happened that a majority of the people in the Ninth Ward were African-American. If it had been a highly affluent area I think it would have been fixed a lot quicker.

Speaking of being fixed, it has been about 3 1/2 years since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Some areas in the Ninth Ward, especially the Lower Ninth Ward are still in such horrible condition. How can we spend billions of dollars to institute democracy in a foreign country but when our own citizens need help it's taking years to get anything accomplished? There is no reason that things should still be as bad as they are.

Also, I read in my journal of a town in which Caucasian "militia" men basically went around shooting African-Americans walking through their town (simply trying to escape the hurricane) because they were "thugs" and up to no good. What really gets me is that the police did nothing and have done nothing about this. Since when was it okay to go around and shoot people because you think they are up to no good? I hate to play the race card but if a group of African-American "militia" men went around shooting Caucasian people would that be overlooked as well? In one statement, an older Caucasian man said that he had seen someone get shot and that as an EMT his first response should have been to go out there and help the man but he was afraid of getting shot himself. I can't wrap my head around the fact that people were just shooting, and in some cases "hunting" other human beings. To be fair, I can possibly understand why some of them took up arms in the first place. If you are hearing news reports about the violence and looting going on and then you see those "same" people in your neighborhood you want to do everything you can to protect yourself, your family, and your property. I am not trying to excuse them from what they done, simply trying to be fair by presenting both sides.

Something else that struck me as strange and honestly quite stupid while we were touring some of New Orleans was that they rebuilt the levees at the exact same height as before. I mean if they didn't work the first time, what makes you think that they are going to work the next time. Einstein said it best, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". Why not take the time and money to do it right, that way if it happens again, the levees will actually work and all this money and man power will not have to be used. Another thing that struck me as odd was the fact that they fenced off some area around the levees (that are the exact same height as before) saying that it was unsafe to live there. However, it's clearly much safer to live across the street from the fenced off area (I'm being sarcastic in case you can't tell). I mean do these people honestly think before they do some of the things they do?

We visited downtown New Orleans last night and it was quite an experience. There were so many different things going on at once. There are restaurants, dance clubs, live music clubs, street performers, and gift shops just to name a few. You can't really tell that the downtown area was affected by Hurricane Katrina, but again, I believe this is because it is so essential to the New Orleans economy.

Group 2: A late post from Monday the 9th

We visited the University of Mississippi in Oxford on Monday. We heard Dr. Susan Glisson from their Institute for Racial Reconciliation. She’s been there since 1996, I think, when the Institute was founded. She used the phrase “rhetorical space,” which Emily Hinkle really liked. Emily’s going to start requiring that people not invade her rhetorical space.

We learned about James Meredith, the first African-American to attend University of Mississippi.

We visited the library archives afterward, where Ms. Jennifer Ford gave us a presentation on what the archives do. She had pulled some interesting documents for us to look as, including KKK pamphlets, sermons given by white pastors after the 1962 riot that accompanied James Meredith’s enrollment in the university, NAACP posters, and essay contest brochures from the local White Citizens’ Council.

We also talked with Dr. Cole, a university provost, and heard his story of attending the university just a few years after Meredith did.

The White Citizens’ Counsels were like a nice version of the KKK. They didn’t murder or terrorize people, but they used social and economic pressure to keep separation and segregation going strong.

One of the essay contest pamphlets had a copy of the last year’s (1960-61’s?) winning essay. It was an eye-opener, to say the least.

The prompt was something along the lines of “Why should the races stay separated?” I only read about a third of the essay, but it was enough to see that the winning kid used arguments from the Bible and from history to justify segregation. I’m sure he probably used pseudo-science at some point, too. In his understanding, Ham, the cursed son of Noah, was the forefather of all black people. Therefore, black people were condemned by scripture to servitude. It’s highly improbable that this kid came up with this argument out of his own brilliance. No. These ideas were being taught in his church and at home. His pastor told him that people with darker skin were natural servants.

His second argument was based on world history. The Greeks were a great civilization until they started mixing with the barbaric cultures around them, he wrote. Before, they led the world in art, learning, government… everything. Integration ended a great civilization.

In small group today, we went on a major tangent, but one that is still relevant to civil rights. We talked about how the Bible was used to bolster arguments for slavery, and later to justify the separation of the races. Today we look with shame on how scripture was twisted to fit an agenda that discriminated against a group of people. We pondered whether the American church will someday look with shame on how the Bible was used to deny rights to homosexual couples.
Our group had very mixed feelings about the issue; most of us are internally conflicted about it and don’t really know which side we stand on.

On the one hand, it’s unfair to deny a population the right to get married. If they’re living like married people, why shouldn’t they get the same tax breaks heterosexual couples do? On the other hand, if gay marriage is allowed, the next can of worms would be adoption.

There’s also the difficulty of navigating the command to love while, at the same time, staying true to the doctrine of the church. The church condemns homosexual acts. If a member consistently disobeys that teaching, should the church ask them to leave the community? The tradition of church discipline says - yes, the member who knowingly continues in sin must leave. But the rest of society finds this concept intolerant and intolerable.

- Lauren