MISHAWAKA – During spring break, a group of Bethel students, faculty and staff traveled on a Civil Rights Heritage Trip. The trip was led by Brent LaVigne, Ph.D., vice president for institutional advancement, with his wife, Michaele; and by Theodore Williams, Ph.D., chair of literature and language, with his wife, Nicole. The group left on Feb. 27 and returned on March 4, spending six days visiting historical sites in the American South.
One student who attended was Kendall Clark.
“My time on the trip was great,” Clark said. “Some of the experiences were heavy, while others were lighthearted and fun.”
According to Clark, some of the best highlights of the trip were unplanned events that turned into beautiful opportunities.
“We were in Alabama looking for a bathroom with Professor Theo’s wife, and [we were] welcomed into a store after walking around hot, thirsty and needing a restroom,” Clark said. “The lady welcomed us inside even though the front sign said no public bathroom. Not only did she welcome us inside, but she shared her story with us.”
The lady turned out to be none other than Paulette Porter Roby, chair of the Civil Rights Activist Committee in Birmingham and one of the civil rights foot soldiers who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She shared with the group several accounts about her experiences and answered questions they had about the movement, taking the time for personal connection and demonstrating enthusiasm in sharing her story.
“When we were getting ready to leave the next day, she showed up last minute and took pictures and gave us hugs,” Clark said.
Clark was touched by the kindness Roby demonstrated for this random group of college students she met by chance.
This encounter was also encouraging to Clark as she contemplated her reason for signing up to go on the trip: to search out the truth and a better understanding of what really happened during the civil rights era.
“We were taught in school that it happened, but [they] never went into detail or taught the dark stories,” Clark said.
Clark also shared that it is discouraging how much this suppression of information is still happening today, even as both systemic and overt expressions of racism are still happening as well. Despite the difficulty of wrestling with these difficult topics, Clark is grateful for the experience and encourages others to participate if given the opportunity.
“I would definitely recommend Bethel do this trip again,” Clark said. “I got to meet new people, hug, cry and pray together [when we were] not sure what to do.”
To learn more about the trip, reach out to the leaders or ask your peers. A total of 19 students went on the trip, and they are excited to explore opportunities for sharing about their experiences in the days ahead.