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Meadows Student Participates in Civil Rights Pilgrimage for Spring Break

Follow Her Updates on the SMU Student Adventures Blog

Chrysta Brown, a senior double-majoring in Dance Performance and Human Rights, is a part of the Civil Rights Pilgrimage to the Deep South during Spring Break. Follow her perspective on the trip on the Student Adventures blog.

People say that college is the best four years of your life. It’s not exactly that I don't believe them, it's just that people only say it after they’ve left. That being the case, I probably will not come to that conclusion for about 80 days because I graduate in 77. Seventy-seven days, as people like to tell me, is a lot less than four years, but it is still a long way away. So, as far as today being among the best days I've ever had in my life, I wouldn't call it the worst but it is doubtful that I would claim it as the best under oath. I can see the childish appeal of running away but being back by dinner or running away to the underside of your bed. I think adults call it a vacation, and I need one. I need Thoreau’s Walden, Pooh's Thoughtful Spot, Sanchez’s park, or Wright’s Paris. But those destinations are dreams lost in the pages of books and seem as distant as graduation. While the American South isn’t a typical destination for rest and recovery, I already bought the ticket and sacrificed a lot to reserve my seat on the trip. It may not have been my remote destination of choice but it is where I am going.

I've been considering the Civil Rights Pilgrimage since last April. One of my closest friends had taken the trip last year and recommended the associated political science class, Basic Issues in American Democracy. After returning from the trip, she invited me to come to the class presentation of their memories. I was staring at pictures of people to whom I owed most of the privileges I enjoy and take for granted. They were, in some respect, the same distant faces that appeared in the short chapter on Civil Rights in my high school American history text book. The difference here, though, was that the people the Civil Rights pilgrims encountered were not two dimensional, nameless, black and white faces. They were living and breathing people with stories, memories, and messages, and living in all the color of reality. I remember getting a text message while my friend was on the trip, "I just marched with Al Sharpton and John Lewis!," and a later conversation that began with, "Chrysta, you HAVE to go on this trip," and ended with, "it will change your life."

My senior year in high school, I was presented with two opportunities, a summer intensive with a prestigious dance company in California or a study of the progression of Civil Rights in the South. What can I say? I'm a dancer by trade, I chose dance. I do not regret that decision – it was an amazing experience. But four years later, my senior year of college, when presented with the same opportunity, I was not as sure of my decision. A conflict in rehearsal scheduling meant that if I went on the trip I would not be performing in the major Meadows at the Winspear concert with my fellow dancers in my last semester. Nevertheless, this time, I made a different choice. In the back of my mind, a voice whispered that if the people I was going to encounter had chosen not to march, sit down, and speak up, I wouldn't even be at SMU. I wanted to meet them. I wanted to hear what they had to say. I wanted to thank them, for myself, my generation, and generations after me.

Judith Jamison, the current artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, talks about going to Africa and looking for her "people." She wanted to find out where she came from. I'm not going into the Deep South to find my "roots." I don't suspect they're planted there. I suppose, at the end of all things, I'm going to find out how I got to where I am, metaphorically speaking. I'll be honest – I, along with most of America, am guilty of reducing the Civil Rights struggle to 11 pages or 28 days, thus dehumanizing what they went through and, in some respects, what is happening now. This trip will give the movement a face, or rather a whole host of faces, and put things into perspective.

Unpleasantness will not be foreign to me next week. I am well aware that I will probably be just as emotionally unstable as I am right now. How could you encounter hate, have it look you in the eye, and hear it call your name and not be deeply affected? How can you sit at the feet of the survivors and fighters and not be changed? I expect this trip will ruin me. But I have found that the greatest experiences have often ruined my current way of life and sometimes that was exactly what I needed. Sam Cooke described it best, "There's been times that I thought, I wouldn't last for long but somehow I think I'm able to carry on." This trip, I suppose, is the "somehow" to which Sam Cooke is referring. It’s the "somehow" I need. So come March 5, at 3:00, armed with my ipod, my journal, and Starbucks Coffee Via Instant Coffee, I'll find a seat near the front of the bus and sit down.

Follow Chrysta's perspective on the trip on the Student Adventures blog.

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