A day in downtown Montgomery
The twentieth annual Civil Rights Trip to Georgia and Alabama began this morning at 4:45am.
For two decades, the trip has been the culmination of lessons woven throughout Gordon's curriculum at every grade level.
Still, the trip is different every year.
The itinerary changes, the students change, and the nation changes.
When the nineteenth trip happened, COVID-19 had not reached Rhode Island, the presidential - and senatorial - elections had not happened, and George Floyd was still alive.
Since then, there have been promising steps forward, even as new, systemic attacks have been launched on voting rights, antiracist education and LGBTQ rights.
The challenge for Gordon's eighth graders remains the same: learn the stories of activists, from history and from the present day, and build on those activists' work to bring positive change to their communities.
This year's trip began at the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery.
Housed at Troy University, the museum houses many of the papers and records associated with the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
It was a little like rummaging through a grandparent's attic, and finding pictures of them when they were young.
Before they were names on a wall, Fred Gray and Robert Graetz were professionals at the beginning of their careers, falling under police surveillance.
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was once a young pastor getting pulled over for speeding.
It takes a little of the romance out of the folk heroes.
But it also takes some of the mystery out of the question of how the Civil Rights legends did what they did.
They were organized, they were thoughtful, and they were brave.
At the Southern Poverty Law Center's Civil Rights Memorial, students encountered more stories of the brave, the thoughtful and the organized.
A docent came out and talked through some of the lesser-known martyrs of the movement.
Some students knew. Some they did not.
The activities they died doing - registering voters, encouraging absentee ballots, driving voters to the polls - are the same ones being threatened by laws being passed across the country this spring and summer.
In pairs and in small groups, students had questions for one another.
How many episodes in the Civil Rights Movement were really spontaneous acts of resistance? And how many were strategically planned?
How can it be that this peaceful public monument commemorates so many acts of violence? And why is the Southern Poverty Law Center, which maintains it, protected by armed guards and heavy security?
How do the people of Montgomery make sense of the monuments to the Confederacy that exist down the street - often on the same block - as celebrations of the Civil Rights Movement?
With the conference rooms of the SPLC closed this year, the conversation spilled into the streets.
Assistant Head Lynn Bowman led a walking tour of downtown.
Along the way, she shared what she's learned over twenty years of visiting Montgomery.
As they walked, another goal of the Civil Rights Trip came to the foreground.
This trip is meant to be fun, too, and to connect students around some ideas that are near to their heart.
That spirit spilled over into dinner.
The group was welcomed into Potz n Panz Gourmet Cafe for fried chicken, black eyed peas, Mac and cheese and peach cobbler, served with love and gratefully received.
The Civil Rights Trip always brings the eighth grade together. But this group has seen remarkable challenges over the past sixteen months.
That made it especially satisfying to see them all sitting together laughing, maskless, enjoying a warm meal after a long day of learning.