An Iowa-based Teamster non-profit group took a busload of mostly at-risk high school students on the trip of a lifetime last month, touring civil rights landmarks and historically black colleges and universities across the southern U.S. in an effort to raise awareness about history and educational opportunities available to them.
The eight-day trip sponsored by the Teamsters Community Action Network (TeamCAN) and Local 238 began at a parking lot in Iowa City before heading to Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia. Among the places students visited were the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn.; the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.; the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.; the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, Ala.; and The King Center in Atlanta.
Students also took tours of the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Tuskegee University, Alabama State University, Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Spelman College, Morris Brown College and Emory University.
“It really opened the eyes of the young people on the trip for the past, present and future,” said Jesse Case, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 238. “They got full absorption of the civil rights movement, what colleges they can attend in the future, and how the past plays out in today’s political climate.”
The students also got a look into how unions operate when they stopped at Local 728’s union hall in Atlanta and met with officials there.
Attendees said the experience was eye-opening for them. “I really didn’t know a lot about Martin Luther King before I came and now I know a lot,” said Marquise Johnson, 18, who graduated Iowa City High School this spring. “In school, they really didn’t teach us that much, they just taught us the basics. Now we know what actually happened and how it happened.”
While this was the 10th year of the civil rights tour, it was the first year TeamCAN was involved. Previous efforts were headed up by an individual who could no longer handle the growing project. So he asked TeamCAN to intervene. Because of its backing by the Teamsters, the trip was expanded and allowed more adults to attend and handle the logistics associated with the trip.
“We hope to grow it and send more kids in buses throughout the year,” Case said. “Our goal is to have different buses from different parts of the state and different times of the year.”