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Connecting with history to realize the future

Note: A team from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire joins the 2015 winter Civil Rights Pilgrimage to document students' experiences and stories on the 10-day journey through history. Writer Shari Lau, videographer Glen Mabie and photographer Heidi Giacalone will provide daily updates from the pilgrimage, highlighting the historic sites and people who fought for equality during the Civil Rights Movement.

All stories from the winter 2015 Civil Rights Pilgrimage can be read on the UW-Eau Claire news website.

Jan. 12, 2015 

Generations intersected today as one UW-Eau Claire student made a special connection with an original participant of the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march for voting rights.  

Freshman Larrick Potvin caught the eye of Aroine Irby, docent at the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery, who had joined Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and hundreds of others as they marched from Selma to Montgomery on March 7, 1965. Irby was only 19 years old when he joined the community of marchers met with brute force from state troopers as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge leading to the nickname "Bloody Sunday."  

"It was his eye contact and attentiveness that made him stand out to me," Irby said of Potvin during the capitol tour. "I don't always see that from the young people who come through here and they are the ones who are going to have to make the changes in the future." 

Potvin, from Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, originally joined the Civil Rights Pilgrimage to learn more about his roots, but has already learned so much more. 

"I'm biracial and grew up more on the white side of my family, so this experience is helping me learn more about my African-American heritage," Potvin said. "I've learned that the civil rights movement wasn't just about the major people like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., it was about the little people too. The people who took part in the protests and marches. We lost a lot of people to make a bigger change. All of those deaths made a difference."  

Potvin and the students experienced the stories of those who sacrificed and fought for racial equality at the Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery. The center honors the achievements and memories of those who died in the civil rights movement between 1954 and 1968. It was here that the people and their struggles were brought to life.  

"Seeing the stories of so many young people who got involved and made changes during the movement has made an impact in my life," Potvin said. "I want to go into social work so I can do something that makes a difference in other people's lives. We can all make a difference no matter who we are." 

Tuesday, the pilgrimage continues in Selma, Alabama, where students will tour the city with civil rights marcher Joanne Bland, witness a slavery reenactment and participate in a community service project.