Black Belt teens travel to key Civil Rights sites

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 7, 2004

As part of The Democracy Project, 26 Black Belt ninth-graders spent the four weekends in August studying issues that will have a vital impact on their lives and their communities.

The Democracy Project promotes democratic values and to strengthen the democratic process through citizenship education, economic equality, social responsibility and educational and cultural exchanges, according to the organization’s mission statement.

Two African-American young men from a high school in each of 13 Alabama counties participated in the project’s Summer Leadership

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Institute, according to the Rev. Lawrence Wofford, pastor of the Greater St. Luke AME Zion Church in Greensboro.

Selma High School ninth-graders Robert Stewart and Xavier Rhodes were selected as eight-graders to represent Dallas County in the nonprofit organization Wofford started in 2002.

The summer program, funded by a grant from the Alabama Department of Education,

was initiated for boys this summer. The program will include girls in the future as funding becomes available.

The youth will participate for the four years of high school with a leadership institute planned for each summer in August, and other activities during the year.

This year’s youth will mentor those recruited for 2005, and the 52 2004-05 participants will mentor the 2006 participants, Wofford said.

Additionally, a grant is being sought that would enable The Democracy Project to hire a staff person to coordinate ongoing interchange between school counselors and participants’ parents, he said.

The Summer Leadership Institute is conducted in cooperation with the Troy University

of Montgomery’s Rosa Parks Museum and the Auburn University School of Journalism.

This year’s Summer Leadership Institute

involved trips to places where major civil rights and voting rights events occurred.

Richard Morrisroe of Chicago who was with voting rights martyr Jonathan Daniels when Daniels

was shot and killed in August 1965 in Hayneville was one of the organizations adult leaders this summer.

The first of the four weekend modules – “Social Responsibility” – was held at the Rosa Parks Museum on Aug. 6.

The second, titled “Civic Engagement,” was held the following Friday, Aug. 13, at the Embassy Suites Hotels and Conference Center in Montgomery, in conjunction with the first annual Alabama Black Belt Healthcare Summit, and at Mt. Zion AME Zion Church, Montgomery.

Following the Aug. 20 session on entrepreneurship and financial literacy in Selma, the group traveled to a number of major points

in Alabama and Mississippi Aug. 27-29, including:

– the Rosa Parks Museum;

– the Southern Poverty Law Center Pool of the Martyrs in Montgomery;

– the Lowndes County Courthouse in Hayneville to see the memorial to Jonathan Daniels;

– Lowndesboro

to see the Viola Liuzzo memorial;

– Selma to see the Edmund Pettus Bridge and the memorial honoring the Rev. James Reeb;

– Philadelphia, Miss., to see Mt. Zion Church and the site of the murders of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner ;

– Jackson, Miss., to visit the Medgar Evers Home and Museum;

– Money, Miss., on the 49th anniversary of the death of 14-year-old Emmitt Till;

– Ruleville, Miss., to see the Fannie Lou Hamer gravesite;

– Greenville, Miss., and the Mississippi Delta;

– 16th Street Baptist Church and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

Wofford said The Democracy Project is planning

a major event Aug. 3-6, 2005, at Concordia College. It will be a National Conference Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Passage of the Voting Rights Acts, titled “Where Do We Go From Here – Forty Years After the Voting Rights Act,” he said.

The conference will also be the first weekend event for the

26 participants in the 2005 Summer Leadership Initiative to which the 2004 participants will also be invited as mentors. Wofford said that nationally known speakers have been invited for the August 2005 conference banquets.

For information on The Democracy Project, write: P.O. Box 2575, Selma, AL 36702, or visit the Web site at