Last week I spent several days on a Civil Rights Journey organized through my high school, Gann Academy. Each year students are provided an opportunity to spend Exploration week learning outside the classroom in local and other U.S. programs. Last year, I was fortunate to spend Exploration Week learning from pioneer foundations for people with disabilities in Israel, a program I developed and received approval for from Gann. I expected my trip this year to be a completely different experience from my trip last year; however, I found myself thinking about very similar ideas.
As I traveled through Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee, I spent a lot of time thinking about segregation, integration, and my personal connection to the Civil Rights movement. It was frightening to think that slavery, racism, and the terrible violence and hatred that came with it once had such a strong presence in this country and that it was not that long ago. And, although there is still a divide between black and white, thankfully the gap is getting smaller. Life in the South is still quite different than in New England, however, major changes in thinking have been made in the last 50 years.
Throughout our trip we met influential leaders of the Civil Rights movement, like Freedom Rider Charles Person and Attorney Fred Gray; they were kind enough to share their experiences as African Americans in the deep South. We also met with a variety of other people who were either involved with or impacted by the Civil Rights movement; their experiences were all very different but shared the same life lessons. They told us that as teenagers in a rapidly changing world, we must do everything we can to change the injustices we see in the world and, further, to find our passions and fight for them. I feel very fortunate to have already found something I am passionate about – making our community more inclusive for people with disabilities. During my journey through the South, I thought about the separation and inequality in today’s world for people with disabilities and I know that we must do better.
Another opportunity provided to students at Gann is during Senior year is Maavar, a three month time period in which we are given “free” time to work on a project or hold an internship aligned with our specific interests. Therefore, starting this week, I will focus the majority of my time dedicated to enhancing the dance4empowerment program. With the recent Combined Jewish Philanthropies Connection and Engagement Grant* I received, I will continue to create more dance programs and push for more inclusion in our communities. In addition, I will be interning at the State House for Representative Kay Khan learning invaluable lessons in the world of politics.
Please stay connected as I share my progress!
Dance, move, and empower,
*One-time Grants of up to $5,000 for innovative initiatives (programs, events and experiences) that support a welcoming and inclusive Jewish community and access to Jewish life. Initiatives are targeted to under-connected or under-engaged populations such as families with young children, interfaith couples and families, and any other cohorts who have not found a way to connect or engage within our community