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The Gordon School

Civil Rights Trip 2018 day one

The first stop of the seventeenth annual Civil Rights Trip was a school.

Atlanta's Morehouse College is a historically black college for men founded in the years after the Civil War.
Most years, the trip has included a visit to a historically black college or university - most often Morehouse, but also sometimes Spelman, or Tuskgee University, or Alabama State University.

With their roots in the days of slavery and Reconstruction, and their vibrant role in contemporary African-American life, the HBCUs draw a unbroken line between the needs of the past and needs of the present.

As one of the Morehouse tour guides pointed out, after one hundred and fifty years, Morehouse remains the only institution of higher learning dedicated to black men.

With that unique focus, Morehouse remains tuned into the larger context in which it operates.
The history tour included the white men who helped found the college, for instance, or the Indian influence on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Morehouse's most famous graduate.
The guides clearly delighted in the lore and traditions of the school, and passing students jumped in playfully to add color to a story or to clarify a point.
For many of the Gordon students, white students and students of color, it was their first time spending a day in a community that was predominately African-American.
Morehouse is a thoroughly stereotype-defying place to have that first experience.
Before walking onto the campus, the Gordon students were reminded of the writing prompt they would have when they returned to the bus.

If you are a student of color, how does it feel to be at Morehouse?

If you are a white student, how does it feel?
How does that match your experience at Gordon?

Or the one you expect to have in high school next year?
At the end of the tour, the Gordon students were asked to read aloud a series of quotes at a memorial for one of the school's leaders.
One of them, gendered language aside, would not have been out of place on one of Gordon's walls:
It will not be sufficient for Morehouse College, for any college, for that matter, to produce clever graduates… but rather honest men, men who can be trusted in public and private life -- men who are sensitive to the wrongs, the sufferings, and the injustices of society and who are willing to accept responsibility for correcting the ills.
After the tour, and lunch in the cafeteria, the students met with filmmaker, artist and lifelong activist Dr. Doris Derby.
With a double major in elementary education and cultural anthropology, she was eminently qualified to address a group of Gordon students.

She was a Freedom Rider, she worked on the Albany movement, she organized logistics for the March on Washington, she collaborated with SNCC, she had developed the Free Southern Theater.
She pioneered new ways for young people to engage with the Civil Rights Movement, and had served as a model teacher during the early days of Head Start, the federal early childhood education program.

The students were eager to show her, with their questions, that they knew this history.

The most mesmerizing part of the presentation was when she showed a brief film that included an interview with her, fifty-five years ago, working in a community school in Mississippi.

The Morehouse tour had asked students to connect the scholars in oil paintings with the young tour guides.

Dr. Derby's connection to the past was more electric. 


She sat with the students, and watched a shadow of her twenty-three-year-old self talk about the importance of progressive, culturally responsive education for very young people.
It was a world away from Gordon School, but Dr. Doris Derby of 1964 was describing many of Gordon's core beliefs.
The idea that it was important to help children learn to make up their own minds.

The idea that children should love learning.
The idea that students should witness the adults in their lives working together to make positive change.
And the idea that students should grow up believing that they can make a difference in the world.
More from the trip at Gordon's Instagram and Facebook

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