The engine gets quiet. I kind of forgot it was on. My seat shakes a bit and my ears pop, re-adjusting to the ground level air. We land in Houston, Texas. Not part of the trip, but a stop along the way. Our first destination — New Orleans, Louisiana.
An experience that changed my young adult life and the purpose it serves was my ten-day expedition to the South. Six states, ten cities. The most I’ve traveled in my life and an experience that forever sticks with me.
We transfer our bags to the bus awaiting thirty something students, and about ten chaperones who are eager and ready to get the real story, the first hand accounts from Civil Rights Veterans. We are riding along beautifully constructed, brightly colored, and jazz-themed New Orleans. We see vibrant stores, happy people talking about yesterday’s news today, and nothing but a functional ordinary city. Suddenly the sky spontaneously grows a bit dimmer. We’re approaching the 9th Ward. The place where the levees broke realeasing the horrific waters that embodied what is Katrina.
Refrigerators on top of the kitchen. Houses completely turned upside down, if in fact the house was lucky enough to still be standing. A 95′ Toyota Camry probably once parked in a drive way, parks one-half of itself in a window and the other half is nicely parked on the street. This devastation is one thing on television but a whole other experience when my light brown eyes gazed upon it through the translucent windows of our metal tour guide. It was enough to bring tears to a strong man’s eye. This was only the beginning of my trip scouring the South piece by piece and being part of history in the making.
After being spoken to about what the trip holds in store and how great the experience would be, I go. My Biology teacher convinced me to go. Funny how much she taught me about life. She was the master teacher on the trip.
The 9th Ward being our first sight braced me for what I was about to partake in. The people who I met were some really heavy names with even heavier reputations. From Chris McNair, father of Denise McNair who was one of the young girls who were killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, to Joanne Blan, the brave young girl who participated in the March on Selma and survived being attacked by police officers. But my favorite was Reverend James Bevel.
Reverend James Bevel is who I refer to as the philosopher of Civil Rights. I barely hear him as I shuffle my notebook pages looking for a fresh page to take notes on. The room is hot. High-powered fans attempt to cool us down. We all try to eat some nice southern fried chicken with complementary sides while listening to Mr. Bevel gives us his Gospel. I hold off on eating in order to listen in on him speak about civil disobedience and his thoughts on the movement. I barely heard him speak but I heard the words he emphasized such as Love, Peace and Marriage. I was deeply interested and intrigued by what this man was saying. I stayed up all night trying to grasp his ideas. My first all nighter-involving positive work.
The trip ended at Martin Luther King’s memorial. Lying in the grass at the forefront of the memorial was “The Eternal Flame,” his flame and his wife’s. In the middle of the large body of water placed in the middle of the memorial, was his memorial. The backdrop showed a timeline filled with vivid pictures of his accomplishments and his family. We take pictures and board the bus.
Sitting on the bus reminiscing about what the past ten days meant to me was a tough hour. While others were sleeping I was reviewing my notes and trying to understand what it is I was a part of. Then once we were close to the airport, we all began reflecting on what the trip meant to us over the invisible speakers magically implanted on the bus. Tears, hugs, and the exchanging of contact information filled the bus. We get off and stand on the long line of merriment awaiting our transportation home.
We board the plane. The engines start. My seat shakes a bit. My ear is filled wit the pressurized air and numbs my hearing. But hey, who needs hearing when they are asleep?
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