Kencell NixonAh, Spring Break. A time to kick back with your best friends on an exotic beach! Well usually. However this year I decided to spend my time in a more meaningful manner. I looked at potentially participating in a variety of service trips, and was almost all set to spend a week volunteering in New Orleans until I was contacted about an annual SMU trip called the “Civil Rights Pilgrimage!” The pilgrimage sounded like exactly what I needed to push myself outside of my comfort zone and learn more about American history.

The trip was eight days in length, visiting different cities throughout the Deep South and fully immersing ourselves in the history of the Civil Rights Movement. We chartered a bus for the journey, and on March 4th we left the comfort of Dallas and traveled 7 hours to Little Rock, Arkansas to begin learning about “The Little Rock 9,” a group of 9 high school students who integrated Central High School in 1957, causing a national controversy. From Little Rock, we traveled to Selma, Alabama, home of the famous Voting Rights marches in 1965 led by Martin Luther King Jr. We ended up visiting a plethora of sights, museums, and exhibits in Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee throughout the pilgrimage.

We visited a variety of museums and historical sites on the pilgrimage, but the most incredible part of the journey was definitely getting to interact with people who were actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Considering the events occurred in the 1950s and 1960s, many participants in the movement are still alive today and those we met were more than willing to share their stories with us. One incomparable woman we encountered in Selma was Joanne Bland, who marched with Dr. King and was beaten and jailed for seeking the right to vote when she was 11 years old! Another incredible man we met was 87 year old Robert Graetz, the only white minister to participate in the Montgomery Bus Boycott! Learning from people that were instrumental in creating positive social change was an absolutely invaluable experience!

My Spring Break was filled with 8 days of happiness, tears, education, passion, and a call to create a world of equality and love for all of Earth’s inhabitants. I may have missed out on the beach sun, but I certainly believe my decision was the right one!

-Kencell Nixon