While more than 10,000 students in sixth through ninth grade throughout the greater New Orleans area have taken the opportunity to see the movie “Selma” through a special community sponsorship at participating theatres — a group of younger students recently traveled to the historic town to view firsthand where the events depicted in the movie took place 50 years ago.
Krystal Hardy, principal of Sylvanie Williams College Prep Charter School, led a team of staff members and volunteers that brought 36 students on a weekend field trip to Selma, Montgomery and Birmingham, Alabama. Hardy, a native of Selma, called the trip a “journey to the heart of the civil rights movement.”
The goal was to create “a life-changing experience that will propel them to do something great” in their lives, she said. Part of the experience was to have them meet “everyday folks who saw a dream become a reality through perseverance.”
The students were greeted by the mayor of Selma and then marched over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, with an escort by the chief of police, she said. When they reached the other side, she had the children draw into a circle and repeat positive affirmations such as “I matter,” “You matter” and “This world will be different because I make a difference in it.”
They then traveled to Montgomery to visit the site of sit-ins and the bus boycott; and to Birmingham, where they visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
At each stop, the students heard from people who helped secure the right to register to vote. Speakers included Cynthia Whitcomb, the author of “Selma, Lord, Selma,” which was made into a Disney film they viewed in preparation for the trip.
Some of the panelists had been children in the march, Hardy said, and the students asked them thoughtful questions about their commitment to justice and nonviolence.
At the conclusion of the trip, the children met with University of Alabama-Birmingham basketball coach Robert Ehsan and freshman player William Lee, as they got a sneak peek at the UAB basketball locker room and tour of the UAB Bartow Arena in Birmingham.
The trip is just part of the hands-on approach Hardy is taking in her first year as principal at the school, one of three run by the New Orleans charter network College Preparatory Academies.
The work they’re doing every day is to get the students ready for college and life, she said. It’s a process she calls “transformational.”
“Overall, I am elated to spend this time with our children alongside our teachers because this is such a pivotal time in our country, and for the kids we serve here at Sylvanie Williams,” she said.