Honoring Civil Rights

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Stripped of its familiar University of Miami signage, the old Hurry ’Cane Shuttle had been parked for hours in the middle of the patio area known as The Rock, its passenger seats occupied by cardboard silhouettes of commuters.

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Vanessa Baldos, 19, climbed aboard and listened as tour guide Caitlin Dudevoir described the chain of events that took place more than 55 years ago, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger, igniting both the Montgomery bus boycott and the civil rights movement.

Baldos listened and looked, especially at the paper-lined walls of the bus. On them were written inspirational words by figures such as Hubert Humphrey, Jessie Jackson, and other iconic civil rights leaders. The health science major from Hawaii was one of several UM students, as well as faculty and staff, who, on January 18 and 19, took “The Bus Ride that Changed History,” an exhibit organized by UM’s United Black Students (UBS) to observe the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

The organization’s re-creation and tours of transit bus No. 2857 were among several events continuing during the next few days to commemorate King’s legacy. A community service activity, a leadership summit, an oratorical contest, and other events will also take place.

“We’re reminded of King’s legacy only when his birthday roles around,” said Baldos, an audio recording of King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech playing in the background. “But it’s important to learn about people who changed history. It’s these people who gave us what we have today.”

Laura Kohn-Wood, an associate professor in the School of Education and director of its new Community and Social Change Program, toured the bus just after Baldos had stepped off, collecting some of the historical literature UBS had placed on a table outside the bus. She made a visit to the bus an extra credit assignment for the 17 students in her Community Psychology class because she was surprised to learn that many of them had not participated in any projects to commemorate the King holiday.

“The idea was that they could learn something from their visit,” said Kohn-Wood, who plans to discuss with her students what they experienced on their tour. “While most students know what Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and other civil rights leaders did, they don’t realize or understand the totality those figures had on social change, the major effect they had on the nation.”

True stories of the civil rights movement related to her by uncles and other older relatives have helped Abigail Nichols, an 18-year-old psychology major and UBS member, understand the importance of the King holiday and the movement.

“That’s one of the reasons I wanted to help with this exhibit,” said Nichols, who outfitted some of the silhouettes on the bus with clothing and served as a tour guide. She said she plans to participate in other UM activities as part of the King celebration.

Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, Brothers Overcoming Negativity and Destruction, Delta Sigma Theta sorority, National Society of Collegiate Scholars, the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, and the William R. Butler Center for Volunteer Service and Leadership Development are co-sponsors in many of those programs.


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