Spring Break in Selma

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Selma Times-Journal

Seventeen students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison chose not to spend their spring break on white sand beaches soaking up the sun. They decided to preserve Selma’s history instead.

Since Sunday, students have been gathering information as part of the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute’s Bridge Serve program.

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An alternative spring break project, Bridge Serve allows students from various colleges and universities to come to Selma and the Black Belt to interview history makers, create brochures and make needed repairs to the NVRMI, the Slavery and Civil War Museum and Memorial Park, said NVRMI consultant Sam Walker.

“The students share the responsibility of carrying on the legacy of the movement,” Walker said.

UW-Madison has been a NVRMI regular since 2001. Tyina Steptoe, a UW-Madison graduate student from Houston, Texas, was a member of the 2001 class. Although the trip lasted for only two days and no service work was involved, Steptoe said Selma left quite an impression on her and her classmates.

“Once we got back to Madison, Selma was all we talked about,” Steptoe said. “This is why I got into the field of history. People in this community are so active in keeping their history alive.”

Steptoe has been working at the NVRMI since mid-February and won’t be leaving the Queen City until early May. She was awarded a UW-Madison grant to work at the NVRMI and indicated the museum staff is keeping her busy.

She hopes the relationship between Selma and her school is “long and fruitful.”

“It seems that they enjoy having us here and I really enjoy it,” Steptoe said.

UW-Madison journalism professor Jo Ellen Fair and residence hall director Scott Seyforth serve as chaperones on the five day service-learning project, which will end Friday. Like Steptoe, both find the experience to be rewarding.

“Frankly for us, it’s more about community and relationships,” said Seyforth. “It’s more satisfying to be in a place for a week and to build connections and relationships rather than being tourists.”

Virginia Kemp, a UW-Madison sophomore history major, said this week has been unforgettable. Students had the opportunity to speak with civil rights activist Amelia Boynton Robinson, who played a prominent role in Selma’s civil rights movement. Kemp cannot imagine spending her spring break anywhere else.

“It’s been amazing…too much happening all at once,” she said. “Every minute they’re introducing us to someone we’ve read about or watched in a documentary. Meeting them has been really empowering.”