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Lessons from Selma: What I learned from the Civil Rights Pilgrimage

By Dennis Beale

Having the opportunity to go on this amazing life-changing adventure has impacted my life as I head into my future career. Words can't express how I felt on each day because you didn't know what to expect outside of what the itinerary stated. Every city and state that we visited from my perspective, had an inspiring and motivational moment attached to it.

Growing up I always read books, articles and journals about history, but it's a different experience to feel, observe and walk in my ancestors' history. The most emotional part of the trip that made me shed tears was Selma, Alabama.

When we arrived, the city was not how I imagined. There are many things that I can say I learned from being there, but the most important one is my history up close and personal. After crossing over the historical Edmund Pettus Bridge, things began to get "real." Some people on the trip explained the slavery reenactment, but they did not state specific details. This movement was something so powerful that it can make you or break you mentally and emotionally. Given the chance to reenact a part of history was a life question to myself. "Would I be able to handle a situation of this kind?" Just imagine being cold, walking in a straight line, disrespected, called names and not being able to talk because in that era if you did, you'd be whipped or dead instantly.

From this particular moment, it made me feel the emotional adversity of what my ancestors faced during the slavery period. Many young African-American males take their freedom and opportunities for granted. As a graduate student at UW-Eau Claire and an active mentor, this very moment helped me to realize the necessity in guiding all males from diverse backgrounds into taking advantage of their opportunities available to them.

At the forum presented by Dr. James Moore III –associate provost for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at The Ohio State University –he stated, scholarships, leadership, service and character will help guide African-American males into changing what they think of themselves. As an undergraduate and current graduate student, this is what UW-Eau Claire helped me to develop over the course of my time here.

I have become a better man, coming from the Chicagoland area where the crime rates are increasing on an everyday basis and room for opportunities can be limited because of continuous killings. My family was affected by the gun violence, which is something that motivates me every day at UW-Eau Claire to keep embracing positive change in every way while on campus. With taking advantage of this opportunity, it helped me to have exposure to new places I've never been. Also, it connected me with great friends, people and a wonderful time. So thank you, Jodi Thesing-Ritter, for this opportunity! I strongly encourage faculty, staff and students to attend this great experience during Winterim or spring break because it's truly a life changer

As the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday draws near, UW-Eau Claire students reflect upon their experiences on the Civil Rights Pilgrimage. 

Read Remembering Selma: The Foot Soldier's Journey on UW-Eau Claire's Blog.