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The Gordon School

Day two of the 2016 Civil Rights Trip

Photos and notes from day two are now online
One of the chaperones said about the Southern Poverty Law Center, “this is my favorite stop on the trip, because it bridges the past and the present, and makes me hopeful for the future.”
It’s also a place where the Gordon students shine, engaging immediately with the SPLC lawyers in a smart back and forth.
A legal fellow explained the Center’s recent lawsuits in the area of LGBTQ rights, shutting down fraudulent conversion therapy centers and advocating for transgender prisoners.

Another pair talked about intervening in public school systems that are using police, and prison, to enforce school discipline, creating a cycle of crisis that can be difficult for young people to escape.

A third presentation outlined the Center’s lobbying efforts to reform the payday loan industry, and private, for-profit probation management companies, that, in the presenters’ words, “criminalize poverty”.

Running throughout the conversation was the idea that systems of oppression that are often tackled separately - racism, poverty, gender, sexuality - intersect, and amplify one another, in the real world.
It made for a complicated conversation, but the students found it energizing.
As one student explained later, the exciting news from the SPLC lawyers was that there are jobs out there in the adult world for people who are serious about tackling some of these issues in practical ways.
There was also something appropriate about spending time on Super Tuesday to discuss the ways that certain populations are kept off the voter rolls, as images of the 1965 Voting Rights March from Selma to Montgomery hung on the classroom wall. 
The bridge to the past was widened next door at the Civil Rights Memorial Center, where little-known civil rights martyrs were recognized alongside more celebrated names.

Students were invited to make their own commitment to advocate for justice by adding their names to database of over 600,000 other visitors.

Their names were then projected on the wall alongside dozens of others, in a mesmerizing display that included, at one point, a few names from previous Gordon visits.
Outside, the Class of 2016 retraced the steps of every eighth grade since 2003 by having their photo taken at around Maya Lin’s Civil Rights Memorial.
Reflecting later on, several students talked about this moment with a sense of arrival.

They had been seeing photos of this scene for years.

It was finally happening for them.
It was smaller than they expected, and less majestic, and this turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

They were happy to find that the big moment was, in fact, hands-on and human-scaled.

Three hours and fifty miles later, the students found themselves thrust into another familiar photograph.

They were standing on the steps of Selma’s Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church with a veteran of the 1965 Voting Rights March to Montgomery, just as fourteen other eighth grades had done before them.
But before they entered the sanctuary, their host Cheyenne Webb-Christburg took them around the side of the church, to the housing projects next door.
She wanted to show them the bedroom window that she would sneak out of, at age eight,  so she could creep into the church and hear Dr. King speak the mass meetings where the 1965 marches were being planned.
Back in the church, she spoke to the students directly, from one activist to another.
She took as a given that this generation was engaged with many of the same issues that hers had been.

She made a frank and earnest plea that these students use non-violence and service to others, as they seek to reshape their world.

For their part, the students all sought to get inside her head.
Their questions were all variations on “what is it like?”
“Did you know what you were doing was important?”
“Who you have gotten involved if you had not connected personally with Dr. King?”
“Are you still involved with social justice?”

It had been a long day, and Ms. Webb offered herself as a generous and affectionate role model.

The route over Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge was the scene of great violence fifty-one years ago, when the Voting Rights March had a tragically bloody false start.
Retracing the crossing with Gordon’s Class of 2016, Mrs. Webb was helping them tack their own ending onto that story.
She lingered on the far side of the bridge, hugging and holding hands with anyone who came within reach, until after the sun had set.
A video posted by Gordon School (@gordonschool) on


On the drive back to Montgomery, the students unwound with a boisterous singalong that would have made their Gordon music teachers, all back at campus, very proud. 
more on the Civil Rights Trip at

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