While things were winding down elsewhere in Tuscaloosa with Spring Break beginning at the University of Alabama, Shelton State Community College and the local school systems, it’s been just the opposite at Stillman College as the school’s sixth president Dr. Peter Millet was inaugurated Friday.
The weekend of inaugural festivities that included a Gospel concert on Thursday evening, a prayer breakfast on Friday morning and a sold-out masked scholarship ball on Friday evening, gave the historically black institution that serves more than 800 students a chance to be in the spotlight.
As a service learning instructor and community engaged scholar, I was pleased to hear that President Millet wants to make community service an official part of every Stillman student’s experience.
As an undergraduate student at Howard University 25 years ago, I vividly remember my days of service in Northwest Washington, DC as a member of the Community Action Network. I also did street ministry through my church, Metropolitan Baptist. But, my connection to the larger DC community was an important part of my development. It also helped me be a better journalist.
Path to Eminence
Often those of us at the University of Alabama or elsewhere in Tuscaloosa hear secondhand what’s going on across town at Stillman College. Fortunately, Friday, I got a chance to see firsthand some of the festivities formally marking the beginning of The Peter Millet era.
Even though he’s been on campus for more than a year, formally as provost and then as an interim President, this weekend was Dr. Millet’s chance to call the nation’s attention to what he is doing to take this institution established in 1876 to a new dimension in 2015.
He wants Stillman College to “Expeditiously Move from Excellence to Eminence.”
In his inaugural address Friday, Dr. Millet detailed how he would do that with academic excellence, community engagement, health and wellness and simply by “loving one another.”
Indeed, it’s a great day to be a Stillman College student and an occasion for pride if you are one of the thousands of Stillman College alumni. Those of us in the Tuscaloosa community celebrate with the Tigers on the West side of Tuscaloosa.
Those of us at the University of Alabama stand with you in our common goal of helping our students be successful
Time to say what I learned today about civil rights as I traveled to Dallas County, Ala where the Selma to Montgomery voting rights march began in 1965.
SELMA, Ala.– I don’t believe it was a mere coincidence that my NAACP Youth Council Adviser called me on my mobile phone at the moment I was approaching the Edmund Pettus Bridge today.
Mrs. Ora Lomax is still the youth adviser for the NAACP Youth Council in Richmond, Va. But, she didn’t know I was here in Selma.
My mother didn’t know I was in Selma as a faculty facilitator for more than 200 University of Alabama students traveling to the 50th Bridge Crossing Jubilee.
But, when I called her this evening, she said she saw the live coverage on the national news and asked my father “Where is George?”
Something told her that I probably was somewhere in the vicinity.
Only the good Lord could have orchestrated the chain of events that remind me of my upbringing as a NAACP freedom fighter, who learned about the hows and whys of civil rights marches and direct action as a high school student back in Richmond, Virginia 30 years ago.
The man who was once president of the Richmond NAACP Youth Council today is a life member of the NAACP and still actively seeking to change to world around me wherever it needs to be changed.
New Found Understanding and Context
As I approach my 45th birthday next week, I am reflective on traveling here to the city that was both a flash point and turning point in Civil Rights Movement.
Why me, why now? What does it all mean?
Last week, I tweeted that my voting in a Tuscaloosa, Ala. tax referendum was one of the best ways to honor those who were hurt on “Bloody Sunday.”
Now that I know who Jimmie Lee Jackson, a young black man murdered not far from Selma in Marion, Ala. just before “Bloody Sunday,” I can say my vote was for him.
If ONLY I had Known Then What I Know Now
In my years as a working broadcast journalist, I associated Amelia Boynton Robinson with Lyndon LaRouche and not with what happened here in Dallas County, Ala.
Seeing photos of Ms. Robinson this weekend at 103 as she was wheeled across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Saturday gave me a whole new view of this significant freedom fighter. I read recently about her experience and saw her depicted in the Eyes on the Prize “Bridge to Freedom” documentary.
I knew about Alabama State University because it was an historically black college in Montgomery. Until today, I didn’t know that it was the place that birthed so many civil rights leaders and where Dr. Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King stayed after their Montgomery home was bombed.
Alabama State President Gwendolyn Boyd told the “ASU Story” in her remarks at Brown Chapel AME this morning.
Her speech set the tone for others who followed in a 3-hour service that was played on a jumbotron on Dallas Avenue as thousands gathered for the Bridge Crossing Jubilee.
I knew the Rev. Jesse Jackson as the 1984 Presidential Candidate/Operation PUSH Leader who’s often over-covered in the media. Today I saw him lift an offering and quipped about his own fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, Inc.
I knew the Rev. Al Sharpton as the very outspoken African American leader who has his own show, PoliticsNation, on MSNBC. Today I saw him “preach” for the first time at the Brown Chapel AME Church. He took a Biblical text and developed it well even as he made some strong points about the current state of voting rights in America.
My journey to learn more civil rights history isn’t over yet. But, I promise you it will definitely inform my civil rights present.
As a diversity instructor, who also teaches media literacy, there is an inherent social justice component to what we do. It’s not enough to sensitize students to poverty or injustice if you don’t advocate for them to use whatever tools they have to do something about it.
I believe that comes through in my work as a faculty member at the University of Alabama working to inspire students of from all racial backgrounds, regions of the country and world. It’s one of the GREATEST privileges I have.
Journalist and Freedom Fighter
You can be a freedom fighter and be a journalist. You can use the power of the pen to tell important stories.
You can use your skills as a scholar to create knowledge and provide context, sometimes context to spur a reader to take action.
That’s my story.
At 44 years, 11 months and 20+ days, I have learned at least that much.
The 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” with events in Selma, Alabama that drew tens of thousands from around the nation provided lessons for students and journalism and mass communication faculty alike.
SELMA, Ala– On multiple levels, the 50th Anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” presented a gold mine of opportunities for those of us who teach journalism and mass communication.
Hats off to my faculty colleagues at the University of Alabama and elsewhere who spent many months planning reporting projects around this weekend’s Bridge Crossing Jubilee that brought President Obama and the first family along with members of Congress and the national media here to Selma.
I was absolutely thrilled that my former graduate school classmate Dr. James Rada of Ithaca College and his students from the Park School of Communications appeared in the credits of NBC Nightly News last night as they reported on events in Selma for the nation’s most-watched network evening newscast.
Closer to home, University of Alabama journalism students have been reporting for weeks on communities in Dallas County.
Another team of students working with UA Journalism Professor Chip Brantley and Telecommunication and Film Professor Andrew Grace produced a documentary “A Call from Selma” on how the murder of a white minister in Selma was a catalyst in the Civil Rights Movement. The Digital Media Workshop course gave journalism students a chance to take their multimedia reporting skills to a whole different level.
While these were all planned, multi-day team projects, what I saw today involved little planning other than students deciding to get a bus with the intention of learning something in a place they’d never really visited. A smartphone, a digital camera and maybe a pad (Although many of them didn’t have one of those– scary for me, as a traditional journalist) was all they carried along with them.
I was only planning to be on the bus tour as a faculty facilitator. Low and behold, I had public relations and journalism students and some journalism and communication minors roaming the streets of downtown Selma taking it all in.
While we had viewed and discussed the PBS documentary, “Bridge to Freedom,” this morning, I had no idea what they would do when presented with the opportunity to do journalism and be more than a visitor to a festival or large-scale event.
Nothing Like a Live Event
As we started today’s bus trip, I didn’t realize that the team of UA journalism students live-tweeting for The Tuscaloosa News with the hashtag #TuscSelma50 all weekend were on my bus traveling from our Tuscaloosa campus to Selma.
One of the students, Alessandra Delrose, had been in my multi-platform reporting class. She was tasked with helping to write a story even as she live-tweeted the events. I got a chance to see her gathering interviews and photos and video, the very skills we teach in our journalism classes.
No classroom assignment could ever replicate this kind of event– with crowds swelling to 80,000 and a lot of things changing minute-by-minute.
Taking Photos Vs. Getting Quotes
In the midst of a throng of Bridge Crossing visitors, our students were watching a church service from Brown Chapel AME Church that turned into a Pre-March Rally as speaker after speaker talked about the events at the Edmund Pettus Bridge long before Rev. Al Sharpton got up to deliver the morning message.
One white student admitted having never attended a predominantly black church service before and yet realizing the public relations strategies that were being used by some who got up to speak.
And, yes, as a diversity instructor, I think it’s relevant and appropriate to mention the ethnic backgrounds of the students in this case.
Another Asian student was furiously taking down notes and whispering questions to me about the speakers as the event went on and hundreds gathered on Dallas Avenue behind us. She was not aware of some of the players from civil rights history in America.
Some students struggled to figure out ‘do I listen and take quotes and take photos or both?’ How do I balance the two?
Ah, the dilemma so many of us have faced in this era of social media, multimedia and traditional journalism rolled into one.
Ray Allen, a senior journalism student was working the crowds before and after they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge snapping photos and working on multiple news pieces at a time.
This is the same student, who a few months ago would say very little in class. He would admit today that this was a new experience for him.
But, he rose to the occasion like a champion! I couldn’t have been more proud.
Allen and Delrose are just two examples of students who gained more experience in doing journalism and mass communication TODAY than they did all semester completing assignments and projects in my class.
They both showed up and showed out in a big way, demonstrating the multi-platform reporting skills that are so important in today’s newsrooms.
But, the events in Selma today and this past week were not just about learning journalism.
The lessons about politics, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and recent Supreme Court rulers that change parts of the Act, poverty and race were endless.
What we’re doing today is offering students a lesson about social justice and that transcends their major, school or college affiliation. It’s up to us educators to utilize gold opportunities like to be unconventional in the strategies we use to facilitate learning.
Some Lessons I Learned From Selma
So here at FIVE Takeways from Selma for Educators, particularly those who are charged with preparing professionals who want to work in media industries:
Lesson #1 Plan, Plan, Plan While the lessons today happened without much preparation on my part. Teaching
moments are often more likely to come when you as a faculty member take weeks or even months to build relationships that can result in great long-term projects. The New York Times’ mini-documentary was not a spare-of-the-moment “go cover this” decision.
Lesson #2 Expect the Unexpected YES, this is a cliche. But, I use it anyway because we as faculty can’t plan
everything no matter how hard we try. I didn’t deliberately check the list of students registered for the free bus trip
funded by University of Alabama to see how many mass media majors were going. Even if I had, I couldn’t have orchestrated today lesson. I have to be ready to look for the teachable moments in the unexpected and the uncertain.
Lesson #3 Non-majors Can Learn Media Too Often we think those who have had our classes, the ones in the sequence that we as faculty have designed deliberately for professional preparation are the one most equipped to learn in a breaking news environment. But, I was amazed at how many other non-media majors were taking in and picking up today’s event. And, yes, I was doing a little “recruiting” for possible minors or second majors among the student group (Never, miss a chance like that)
Lesson #4 De-brief, De-brief I found myself doing a lot of checking in with the students along the way. It was great to kind of be in that quasi-producer, news manager, media manager role at the scene of a breaking story like the one today.
Lesson #5 Be Ready for Questions You Can’t Answer Today’s 50th anniversary celebration was filled with opportunities to teach history. I am NOT a historian. But, media history inevitably gets integrated into my lessons. As much I had learned from reading about Selma, the 1965 Voting Rights Act and that era, there were several questions students asked today that I couldn’t answer. It’s ok for us Ph.D.s to not be experts in everything, even though journalists like be well-rounded, widely read individuals.
The lessons in the signs and t-shirts worn by attendees were endless.
I think this day and this past week Selma became the BEST JOURNALISM and MASS COMMUNICATION Classroom in America!
Between The Sustained Dialogue Campus Network Annual Summit in Tuscaloosa and The Bridge Crossing Jubilee in Selma, I worked with college students in crossing bridges this weekend.
Thanks to a carefully-timed national summit for the Sustained Dialogue Campus Network and a University of Alabama field trip, I have spent the last 48 hours figuratively and literally crossing bridges with students from near and far.
What a great way to engage college students who are learning how to foster conversations that lead to inclusive environments on college campuses all around the country.
On Saturday, we wore t-shirts asking “Are You Crossing Bridges” as we participated in intensive planning and strategy sessions for introducing issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, class, religion, and ability to students in various models with the goal of enacting change.
The students attending the conference had a chance to screen the 1980s PBS documentary “Bridge to Freedom,” which was part of the Eyes on the Prize series.
Traveling to The Bridge
Then, this morning, we showed the film again, but to more than 200 University of Alabama students who were part of a caravan of buses traveling from Tuscaloosa to Selma for the 50th Annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee.
We heard speeches from those challenging us to “go beyond the bridge” and to “not stop on the bridge” before literally walking over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the same place where voting rights demonstrators were beaten 50 years ago this weekend.
To see my multicultural crowd of University of Alabama students listening to the rally speeches, which were given at historic Brown Chapel AME Church and beamed via closed-circuit television out to the tens of thousands who gathered at the Bridge was something I will never forget.
Nervous as we were about taking 200 students on a field trip to a small town not used to 80,000 visitors, we were relieved that it all worked out. Thanks be to God, we had perfect weather and wonderful interactions on the bus, during the rally and even on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
This weekend will truly be one of the highlights of my 12 years as a resident in the state of Alabama.