Immersed in Selma
Neil Burk ’11 - As of Friday night I have been in Selma, AL with my African American Rhetoric class. On Friday, part of our group went to a step show. This was a great experience because I was able to experience the youth/hip-hop aspect of African American culture. This was a unique experience that I will likely never duplicate, but will always remember. Saturday was our busiest day of the week. We started with a quick meeting in our hotel, followed by the Foot Soldiers breakfast to remember the men and women that took part in the original bridge crossing, on which the Jubilee Festival is based around. We next went to the street fair aspect of the Jubilee Festival. Now I have been to many street fairs, but none have been as powerful or memorable as this one. The most obvious part, and the part I will tell you about, was the smell!! Most street fairs smell of disgustingness and fat. The Jubilee Festival, however, smelt of delicious B-B-Q!! All day I looked forward to lunch, but when it was lunch time I wasn’t hungry. Because of this I decided on a couple hot dogs instead of the ribs (which I was looking forward to). Our next stop was to be the Economic Empowerment Panel. As with any trip, there was a slight hitch in the plans. We were asked to partake in a reenactment with a group of four women at the Slavery and Civil Rights Museum. I will speak on this in a moment. After the reenactment we went to the Intergenerational Hip Hop Summit. This was very interesting because the primary topic was how to join the Hip Hop Generation with the Civil Rights Generation to ensure that African Americans can prosper in the future as much as possible. During this I really saw how much pride many African Americans have in their culture. After a quick dinner at a China Buffet, we headed over to the Awards Banquet for the Jubilee festival. We got a lot of good pictures and some video here, but ultimately headed back to the hotel before it started. Overall it was an extremely busy day, but I had many great experiences and can really feel myself being immersed into African American culture. To me the most important thing of all is happening, I am conversing with my professors and fellow students, making great new friends, and enjoying every second of this trip.
So back to the Slavery and Civil Rights Museum Reenactment. I will tell you the whole story because that is the only way I can begin to convey the importance and emotion. We were sitting in our van waiting for directions to the Economic Empowerment Panel when four women approached us and asked us to make their group large enough to perform a reenactment. We all thought that this sounded fun and we decided to try it. As we waited outside for the reenactment to start, one of the women gave us a disclaimer that this was a very serious reenactment. I sort of shrugged this off as her just selling the experience. The next thing I knew, we were lined up on a wall, being called the N Word, and being treated like slaves. The kind woman’s disclaimer was not a joke. We were soon taken into the building after some degrading remakes. Once inside we were given the final chance to leave the reenactment, and then sent into a very small, very dark room. There were many screams and many N Words, all in a successful attempt to give us a slight sense of what it would have been like to be captured in Africa and brought to America as a slave. From this room we were led through a small tunnel onto a 5 person canoe (there were 20 or so of us on it). We left the boat and went to another room where we were lined up and 5 of the group members were selected to be removed. These participants were taken into a room, which led to many screams that scared the heck out of those of us remaining. We finally were brought back together as a group, the lights were turned on and met Miss Afrea We-Kandudis (sound out the last name). Ms. We-Kandudis was a very sweet Christian woman who spoke to us about the importance of understanding African American history, as well as the importance of understanding your own soul.
This reenactment was a very moving experience. For the first time in my life I was degraded because of my race. This whole experience gave me a new outlook on slavery and the Civil Right movement. Even though I cannot imagine what it was like to be an actual slave, or to be degraded because of your race by someone who really hate you because of your race, I can begin to understand some of the struggles that African Americans have gone (and continue to go) through. I want to send a special thanks to Ms. We-Kandudis on behalf of our entire class. Without her great effort the reenactment would not have been nearly as effective.