Last summer, I rode a bike from Charleston, SC to Santa Cruz, CA for affordable housing through a program called Bike and Build. It was one of the hardest and most amazing experiences of my life, and I am finding that my summer spent with Teach for America is quite similar to it in a lot of ways (except B&B allowed time for naps and had way better food). Last summer, one of our four precious days off was in Little Rock, AK. This weekend this year’s SC2SC route was in Little Rock, and myself as well as three other alumni from my route (Britt, Stew, and Gina) decided to visit them! I headed out to Little Rock last night after training was over, and I was very excited to escape the TFA bubble for a day and return to the B&B bubble that I miss so much! I was also excited because I have a few friends on this year’s route– Mike, who I recently met in Orlando, FL; Brian, my mentee, who is also from MI and happens to be in teh same fraternity as my dad; and Cassie, Britt’s girlfriend.
While the relaxation and all was fun, what I want to talk about is a little deeper than that. Today, I got the opportunity to see Central High and its visitor center. Central High is where the Little Rock 9 happened (the first majorly publicized attempt at desegregation in a public school). In TFA, we have talked about the Little Rock 9 a lot because it is so pertinent to our work. Minority and impoverished populations are not getting the same opportunities to education that others are, and the perseverance that these students had in obtaining what was rightfully theirs is admirable. I felt both disgusted and empowered standing in the visitor center– knowing that they were so accomplished in their actions, but also knowing that the achievement gap is still a very real problem. The museum had some inspirational quotes that really resonated with me: “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” (John Lewis– former Freedom Rider) “We’ve come too far from where we started to get tired now.” Another one that stuck out to me was a billboard that says “Who will build Arkansas if its own people do not?” I feel like this is a message I need to send to my students in Memphis– they must take ownership of their city.
As we left the visitor center, we walked over to the park and school grounds. In the park, there was a group of people taking photos with chains and ropes around them. We asked a man there what this was all about, and he said they were rehearsing for a big event that is coming up sponsored by the visitor center. We learned that there were people right there standing next to us who were the sons and daughters of the Little Rock 9 and other pertinent leaders in Civil Rights. It was amazing to see that legacy right in front of me considering our goal at MBA is to live up to the legacy. Listening to him speak, a current B&B rider said, “it’s always interesting to meet people who have more to say than we do.” This stood out to me because on B&B we were constantly telling people about our journey and people were so impressed, yet traveling the country by bike also meant that we got to hear the stories of such a range of people. I am so grateful to have met that man today and to have had a re-glimpse at my B&B experience. The two programs– and issues (education/affordable housing)– are more correlated than they may appear, and I know I am becoming/have become a much better person having experienced both of them. I loved today, and I am feeling rejuvenated and ready to work hard tomorrow to prepare myself for the week ahead. I will post pictures from the museum soon!