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Campus Spotlight: Travel, Serve, Learn — SUNY Brockport’sTeam Memphis Winter 2012

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The College at Brockport offered a WinterSession 2012 service learning course entitled CMC 211: Protest and Public Opinion. This course included classroom segments on campus, plus an 9-day, 8-night field experience in Memphis, Tennessee where students attended classroom sessions and took field trips related to the course.  While in Memphis students performed service work with the Zion Cemetery Project, helping to reclaim an abandoned 16-acre Black cemetery that contains 23,000 graves, some of them former slaves.  The field trips included Civil Rights sites in Memphis. This academic experience culminated with visits to the site of Martin Luther King’s final speech, the National Civil Rights museum at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was assassinated and with observing Martin Luther King Day in Memphis.

This blog post is a compilation of blog posts that students wrote chronicling their experiences as part of Team Memphis. Thank you to Dale Hartnett, Protest and Public Opinion instructor, for compiling this blog post! You’ll be able to learn more about this course at the ADP National Meeting in San Antonio, Texas during Dale Hartnett’s presentation on Friday, June 8 at 1:30 p.m. Not registered yet? Register here!

“A River To Ignite My Mind and Alert My Senses “

January 11, 2012

Zion Cemetery

Zion Cemetery

Today was our first day in Memphis… we went to Zion Cemetery and met with Dr. Milton Moreland (professor from Rhodes College in archeology.) Before he arrived, Haley presented about the cemetery and shared various cemetery ceremonies such as the going home ceremony and famous persons that our buried there such as Dr. Georgia Patton Washington, who was the first African American female doctor in Tennessee.

When Milton arrived he showed us the various stones including the late Doctor’s which was buried under a magnolia tree (that tree must beautiful in the spring, I almost could smell its sweetness as Mr. Milton told us about her). Milton also shared with us his assumption that the cemetery had mass graves from the epidemic of yellow fever of the 1870′s and Professor Hartnett showed us stones where two people were buried in the same plot; hence maybe they were buried on top of each other. – Kammie

“…We are a revolution”

January 12, 2012

Today, the team decided to go on a driving tour of Memphis. During the tour led by our professor/tour guide, Dale Hartnett, we visited places like the Mississippi River, and the famous Beale Street. We saw so many things that struck our interest, but nothing more than the campsite of Occupy Memphis. While driving by on our way to see the Mississippi River, we noticed a campsite, and asked if that was the Occupy Memphis group. Professor Hartnett said that he believed this was at least the general area that they were supposed to be located. We all got so excited that we asked to go see it.

The Occupy campaign falls in line with the subject matter of our class, Protest and Public Opinion, and the idea of meeting

Occupy Memphis

Occupy Memphis

some of the people who are part of this group excited all of us. We walked up to their campsite, but we didn’t see anyone there. It was early, so we figured that most of the protestors were still sleeping. On one of the bulletin boards they had a list of some of their events and rallies coming up. Needless to say, we will be attending one of those rallies very soon. Also, while we were there, Professor Hartnett offered the suggestion to bring some of the protestors dinner tonight. We have a lot of leftovers from the Americorps dinner last night, and he thought that would be a good idea. We all thought that this was an awesome idea and one of our team members, Erica Stoeckeler, looked up their website, found their number and gave them a call. We received no answer. We even tried tweeting them when we noticed that they have an active twitter account. So far, we haven’t heard from them, but we will keep trying. If we don’t hear back from them, we still plan to go to their rally on Monday.

Before we left, one of our team members came across one of their signs said that seemed pretty thought provoking:

“We are not a movement, we are a revolution”

It is part of our class to analyze groups like these, and discuss whether or not they would be considered a “Movement” or “Revolution”. Even if they are not technically considered either of these things, I find it inspiring that groups of people are organizing around the nation to fight for what they feel is right. Hopefully this group can consolidate their goals with those across the US and truly become a social movement, because we live in an era where not many people will stand up and demand change. This group has the potential to become something bigger than what it is now. I hope that it does. –Imani Lawrence

Strange Fruit

January 13, 2012

I looked up into the twisting trunk of the magnolia tree, faintly tuning in to the story of the buried resting beneath.  Nothing hung from the Southern symbol, yet stillness ebbed through the tangled branches.  The words of Billie Holiday reeled through my recollection:

“Southern trees bear a strange fruit,

Blood on the leaves and blood on the root

Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,

Then the sudden smell of burning flesh”

The song was played for us less than a week ago back in our classroom at Brockport as part of our introduction in the Civil Rights Movement.  While standing in the cemetery, that memory seems long ago.  The cemetery bodes us to peel back the layers of history resting with fallen and forgotten graves.

Magnolia Tree

Magnolia Tree

Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell and William Stewart are among those who have come to rest in the Zion Cemetery in Memphis. While walking the gravesites with Team Memphis 2012, Dr. Moreland of Rhodes College, who spearheads the restoration efforts, tells of these 1892 black merchants who were victims of lynching.  Ida B. Wells was moved to crusade against lynching and make known her anti-lynching position after these three black merchants were lynched for reasoning other than the usual rational cited; rape.  Fellow student, Haley, informed us that it is believed that the lynching occurred to “keep the nigger down.”

Search the burial records for William Stewart on the Zion Community Project website.  What you will unearth is the section and row that he is buried in.  However, this information won’t bear meaning until stepping foot in the actual cemetery.  Part of the purpose we serve in joining in the restoration efforts is to devise a system to help graph and map out the cemetery so the former sections and rows can be traced back to specific locations.  I am excited to be a part of this effort and hope in a few years down the road to see more of the community coming together to take ownership over this noteworthy project.  Like Billie Holliday graphically reminds us we need to we preserve this piece of history. – Jess

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – M.L.K.

January 17, 2012

Remember visiting your grandparents’ house for holiday dinners? Everyone in the family would rise to enthusiastically greet and embrace you upon arrival. The aroma of food filled your nose and warmed your soul, as you’d mingle amongst family members, catching up with one another. Outbursts of laughter and little cousins running around the house would interrupt conversation, only to put a smile on your face knowing you were home.

Farewell Dinner

Farewell Dinner

Yesterday, we were at “home” in Memphis. Our team woke early to attend a service at the Mount Vernon Baptist Church – Westwood, where we were formally introduced and praised in front of the entire congregation. Following the church service, senior pastor, Dr. Reverend Netters, treated our group to a traditional soul food meal at the legendary Four Way restaurant. Afterwards, we were invited to LeMoyne Owen College for an annual fundraising event, where we were introduced to many black churches from the Memphis area.  Throughout the day, worshipers took us aside to thank us for the work we’ve done, wish us good luck with our studies, and lavished us with warm hugs.

At LeMoyne Owen fundraiser, I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Reverend Netters’ great grandson, Jalon, who afterwards pointed out that I had separated from the team Memphis group. I responded that it shouldn’t be too hard to find them, as we instantly located my White classmates dispersed among a sea of Black people. As Jalon and I laughed, it became apparent for the first time in the past week that we were the minority.

I wish all members of minorities could be treated like family, as we have been for the past week by the Mt. Vernon Baptist Church; embracing one another for differences and taking advantage of opportunities to learn from one another. – Erica


January 19, 2012

Stepping off the plane made it final. Team Memphis 2012 had dispersed.  There will be no picking up right where we left off.  Not an option! We have been changed for the better- a sentiment I think we all would share!  Our trip sets the stage for a transformational year.  After all, as Andrea (if I’m not mistaken), one of the ladies passing through the hostel, pointed out, “this is the Year of The Dragon.”

Zion Cemetery

Zion Cemetery

Andrea impressed with our dedication to the restorations efforts of the cemetery likened us to missionaries. Others shrouded us with gratitude and welcomed as if we were fellow Memphians.  The recognition left us knowing the work we did was impactful.  IMPACTFUL BUT INCOMPLETE-is the chronicle that we stepped into and then back out of.  Knowing that the work is incomplete is not unsettling rather it is uplifting.  Who will come together to narrate the next page or chapter remains to be foreseen.  Will Karen, who preserved the records of the T.H. Hayes Funeral Home, connect with Dr. Moorland of Rhodes College to make the records accessible online; will Carol of AmeriCorps spearhead an annual clean-up project at Zion Cemetery; or will a member of the Mt. Vernon Baptist congregation who serves on the Zion board recruit others to join the board?  The possibilities of partnerships are limitless.  I have faith that progress will be achieved.   Whichever scenario plays out, these are opportunities for the community to come together and reconnect with the past and…we helped to create them (through direct action and in raising awareness!)

Today in reflecting upon our trip Mark Noll, Director of Institute for Engaged Learning for The College at Brockport, posed the question “Should all students be required to complete a course with a service learning component?”  Our group stood divided.  Dr. King, I believe, would answer YES.  Simply put, he describes service work as “The rent we pay to live on Earth.”  This begs the bigger question of “What is the goal of our college experience?”   Is it merely to get a degree or, as Mark suggested to us, is it meant to be a transformative experience?  The latter I would contend!

For more information on SUNY Brockport’s Team Memphis experience:

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