Big Life Series visit ‘a transformational experience’

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, July 20, 2022

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200 student-athletes and administrators from the Big Ten, ACC, and Pac-12 stopped by several historic locations in Selma on Saturday as part of the Big Ten’s Big Life Series.

The Big Life Series, an initiative announced Feb. 28, serves as an opportunity to educate and inform those who participate, providing unique opportunities and experiences while exploring race relations and social justice matters.

“We established the Big Life Series to help further prepare our student-athletes to impact the world beyond their athletic careers,” said Kevin Warren, Big Ten Commissioner. “Our trip to Selma and Montgomery is a first in a series of trips that our student-athletes, administrators, and members of the Big Ten Equality Coalition will take to inspire a meaningful dialogue about racial, social, religious, and cultural injustices in our nation. Big Life Series: Selma to Montgomery will empower our Big Ten Conference family to use their voices to drive change in their respective communities.”

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The Selma leg of the journey marked the second day of a three-day trip that provided the group an opportunity to learn more about the history of the Queen City of the South pertaining to the Civil Rights Movement and fight for voting rights for Black citizens.

“Selma was a very transformational experience for me,” said Brooke Bogan, Michigan State University women’s track and field. “It’s one thing to learn about events like Bloody Sunday but to actually stand and cross over the bridge where it happened was a very emotional experience.”

Bogan said the trip provided an avenue for reflection.

“The visit showed me that there are a lot of really strong people responsible for me having the opportunities I have today,’ she said. “I am eternally grateful for the experience and to not only learn about but meet some of these strong individuals. The Big Life trip has forever changed me in a positive light.”

Prior to the group crossing the bridge, the participants in the Big Life Series visited the First Baptist Church, where they heard stories from those who experienced the events that sparked change firsthand.

Sadio Fenner, University of Nebraska men’s track and field, said the significance of Bloody Sunday and the march that followed the harrowing event gave him an understanding of the struggle those people went through in those moments.

“Even as a distance runner, 50 miles is still a lot but we’re not out there doing that in the clothing and conditions they were,” he said. “This just goes to show how much we desperately needed change. Within the church, I was heartbroken listening to the stories through the speakers tears but more so, I found my spirit lifted as they encouraged us to keep our heads held high and continue to work towards progressing meaningful change as the fight against injustice continues still to this day.”

He added seeing his brothers from Kappa Alpha Psi handing out water and encouraging words made him appreciate how the community comes together to show their support.

“Walking up and over the bridge together made me reflect on how those who came before me did so with resistance but continued to march on regardless and withstood brutal beatings in hopes that it would make a difference,” Fenner said. “While mine and our collective journeys are not like how they were during the 60s, I’m reminded that we have to keep marching if we want to make a better today, not tomorrow. For that reason, Selma has found a place within my soul that I will now carry with me as I keep learning, experiencing, and educating those around me.”

Erica Lafayette, Rutgers women’s basketball, said the visit was a memorable experience for her seeing how African Americans rose to the occasion and fought for a key right they had not received.

“Selma made me think deeper than I ever thought, going to a place that had such historical significance,” she said. “Walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge gave me courage and understanding of what many people of my color went through at the time. Now that I have experienced these things, I think many people don’t value the right to vote as seriously as we should.

“The overall visit to both Selma and Montgomery impacted me more than I had imagined it would,” she added. “It made me grateful to be able to even complete walking through the town without being detained like my predecessors were. These visits impacted not only my outlook but my heart and soul. The night before we returned home, I realized that I could make a contribution to society for not only my peers but for the people to come after me. I want to use my voice to encourage others to recognize their own potential and that we all have the capacity to make contributions to society.”

Teresa Gould, Deputy Commissioner of the Pac-12, called the collaborative and immersive experience a phenomenal venture by the Power 5 conferences involved and said she was grateful the conferences partnered together to make it happen. “I think that’s part of the richness of the experience is 41 universities, literally from coast to coast, bringing 200 student-athletes down here,” she said. “I think we’ve done a lot in our conference to really prioritize and support education around social justice and around Civil Rights-related issues, but there’s nothing like being able to bring them here to experience it, particularly West Coast kids who have never even been to the state of Alabama or this part of the country. For them to be able to have the experience, see these sites and hear from leaders that were part of the movement. There’s nothing like it. You can’t replace that experience in any other kind of education.”

One of the participants in the Big Life Series came to Selma with plenty of familiarity.

Will Hunter, Vice President of Operations for the Pac-12 and a Selma native, said he felt like an ambassador for the delegation and had a chance to see them experience it from their own perspectives.

“I’ve been using the term, I feel like the prodigal son here a bit,” he said. “It’s great coming back with such a great group of young people that are eager and willing to change the world. I think it’s important to learn where you come from so you can go out in the world and do better … You can see there was a struggle here in 1965, but a beautiful struggle that has changed the lives of many. We hope that it changes the lives of the young people here.”

Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr. said having the group visit Selma was an amazing experience. “These young folks just have a level of energy,” he said. “They’re strong physically, but when you get to engage them and you really get to feel their spirit, their mental capacity and their desire to do more in this nation and particularly in Selma. This is just the first step of many. I’ve said this is our first date. This is going to turn into a great love affair with all these conferences.”

Perkins commended Dr. Denisha Hendricks, Parks and Recreation Director for Selma, for her efforts in helping make the event possible.“A lot of people don’t know the jewel we have in her, but she truly has her hands on the pulse of the NCAA,” he said. “It is through her connections and relationships that we’re able to do all of this. We have a jewel in her, and we need to celebrate that.”