• Brearley

A Student Writes: "On the Alabama Civil Rights Trip in June, I Learned to Speak about My Experiences and Emotions, Despite Discomfort. I Also Learned How to Listen to Others."

The Indian Springs/Brearley Civil Rights Trip to Alabama was truly a transformative experience and one that I would recommend to any student interested in learning more about the history, present, and future of race relations in our country. This trip was filled with intellectual and emotional learning, allowing for a deep understanding of the material we encountered.
The intellectual learning comprised mainly museum visits, readings, videos, walks around cities; the emotional learning was woven through these experiences but also included racial autobiographies, talks with community leaders, and group and individual reflections and discussions. Through both kinds of learning—especially the latter kind—I formed close relationships with not only the Brearley group’s teachers and students but also the Indian Springs participants.
The first full day in Alabama, we visited Birmingham and attended the 16th Street Baptist Church’s Sunday Service. Attending this service was eye-opening and definitely a highlight of the trip. I was amazed by the music; the passion of the congregation, the choir, and the Reverend; and the sense of community—and how readily we were welcomed into it.
Attending the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham later that day was another moving experience. It taught me more about different aspects of the civil rights era—housing, educational, and occupational inequalities; the importance of the church; and the relevant Supreme Court decisions. We also visited the Safe House Museum in Greensboro; the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute in Selma; and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum in Montgomery. In Birmingham, at the Safe House, and at the museums in Selma, we spoke to “footsoldiers”; those who, as children, marched during the 1960s for their rights. All of them were incredible, and all had the same message—that we, as young people, have the power to enact change. Their message resonated with our group, especially because one of the questions that came up often during our discussions was: what can we do?

These museums and the rest of our experiences in Alabama raised different emotions for all of us. We explored these reactions together—in well-planned-out conversations and in spontaneous ones. These conversations—even more so than my time in the physical places we visited—transformed my view of race in our country. Some particular conversations that have stuck with me are: the one after our time in Selma; that after our day in Montgomery, where we talked about our highs and lows; and the one with a senior at Brearley about everything from India to capitalism. These discussions were particularly poignant because everyone in our group was willing and even eager to speak, listen, and be vulnerable. The nature of these conversations was different from that of a typical classroom experience.
The most moving element, to me, were the racial autobiographies, in which we wrote about our experiences with race and racism and their effect on us today. After we shared our stories, I approached others about their own experiences and also talked with those who saw elements of themselves in my autobiography.
We didn’t just speak about race, however; I had meaningful conversations with different members of the group about everything from privilege and life decisions to books and movies. The teachers did a really wonderful job of balancing letting us make friends on our own and giving us prompts and partners to foster conversation. Furthermore, our days in Woodlawn and in Greensboro, though they did relate to race, took a step away from the history of the civil rights movement. With the Rural Studios, the Woodlawn Foundation, and Growing Kings, we learned about present restoration initiatives.
On this trip, I learned how to speak about my own experiences and emotions, despite discomfort. I also learned how to listen to others. Though I came away more distraught about the history and present of race in our country, I also came away more motivated to do something—and with a clearer idea in mind of how to do so.
- Frances Keohane ‘20
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