by Matthew Schorr, T'14
This past spring, ten of my peers and I had the privilege of participating in Roots to Rights, a civil rights tour of the American South, sponsored by Jewish Life at Duke and the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture. The program focused on black and Jewish struggles for civil rights, which, as we learned, share much in common. Over the course of our six-day journey, we spent time in Charlotte, Atlanta, Selma, Montgomery, Birmingham, and Memphis, cities that played central roles in American civil rights history. In each city, we explored museums, monuments, and historical sites; for instance, a highlight of our trip was visiting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birth home. Perhaps our favorite moments of the trip, however, were spent talking to individuals who have personally fought in the struggle for civil rights. These individuals included those who fought injustices during the famous Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, as well as their successors, who have followed in their footsteps and carry on the struggle today. Each stop on our trip gave us invaluable insight into not only the history of our country, but also our personal histories and the histories of our ancestors.
While sightseeing and exploring were important parts of our experience, the most valuable part, in my opinion, was the intellectual and cultural exchange that took place among the program’s participants, who came from different backgrounds, knew different cultures, and embodied different values and beliefs. Although we were timid and each knew few of the other participants when the trip began, we became fast friends. As we spent time together, learned together, and learned about each other, we became increasingly comfortable around each other. We opened up, sharing our views on race and religion, recounting our personal experiences, and teaching each other about our respective cultures. There was no stupid question, as we recognized how much remained for all of us to learn. In a few days, we uncovered countless fascinating similarities, and just as many intriguing differences among the members of our group. In less than one week, we understood our country, each other, and ourselves better than we could have imagined at the beginning of the trip. Roots to Rights was one of the highlights of my Duke experience, and I strongly encourage all students to apply to participate in the program.