Racism eradicators

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Selma Times-Journal

An “army of racism eradicators” – 21 black and Jewish students from St. Louis, Mo. – marched through Selma Thursday afternoon on a mission to shatter all “isms” dividing American society.

These insightful adolescents toured the Queen City as part of a St. Louis-based organization called Cultural Leadership. A nonprofit entity, Cultural Leadership seeks to “develop leadership, dispel stereotypes and promote mutual respect, understanding, cooperation and dialogue between African-American and Jewish youth.” Founded by Karen Kalish two years ago, Cultural Leadership is a reflection of the history of black and Jewish relations in the United States – two groups that have worked side by side for equality and mutual successes, according to the organization’s website.

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The students kicked off a 25-day trip June 14 in New York City – touring well-known black and Jewish sites – and headed south, making stops in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Tuskegee, Montgomery and Birmingham before visiting Selma, which proved to be an emotional stop for the young group.

“I cried. It was just like I don’t care anymore. I’m just gonna let it all out,” said 17-year-old Augustus “Gus” Cotten of the Slavery and Civil War Museum’s interactive exhibit depicting how Africans were forced onto slave ships and stripped of their freedom.

“It was shocking to see just how horrible every thing was, not that I didn’t know before,” added Mia Harlan, 17. “It was a really good part of our trip.”

As students stood in the NVRMI, JoAnne Bland, the museum’s tour director, offered the group a few words of wisdom. She advised them to discuss issues openly and honestly with one another – an act most adults have yet to achieve. Bland also enlightened students about the voting rights movement that took place 41 years ago.

“It was not a black movement contrary to popular relief, but a people movement,” she said. “We can’t make a change without each other – period.”

Student Lauren Greene, 16, couldn’t agree with Bland more.

“We have to make a change. We just can’t sit back and let it happen. You have to initiate a movement.”

Added Cotten, “You have to help other cultures even if you’re not of that culture.”

Today, the “army” will continue their southern tour, traveling to Utica and Jackson, Miss., New Orleans, Little Rock and Memphis before returning to St. Louis July 8.