STUDENTS | March 30, 2018
Teens from four CPS South Side high schools will travel to Memphis, TN Tuesday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination and visit Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
A total of 40 students from Hirsch HS, Bowen HS, Harlan HS and Chicago Vocational Career Academy will leave Tuesday evening from Hirsch HS, located in the Grand Crossing neighborhood, returning April 8.
Hirsch’s principal, Larry Varn, organized the trip and brought other principals in his network on board, he said.
The idea started because he first identified a concern he had for Hirsch students, he said.
“College enrollment has been a big area of concern,” Varn said, who attended an HBCU.
“I’m a product of an HBCU and I think that’s the support system our students would benefit from,” he said. “What we want to do is match our students with colleges that will be able to nurture and support our students the same way they’re accustomed to here.”
While planning the college tour, he said he recognized the significance of the travel dates and decided it would be a great opportunity for students to make historical stops along the way. They will join thousands of others on Wednesday as they reflect on the day that King was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel, 450 Mulberry St., in Memphis.
“We’re only 50 years removed from that era, and with the resurgence of civil engagement going on in the country, Black Lives Matters, gun control, we are seeing things come full circle,” Varn said. “We thought it would be beneficial to have the students take part in honoring the legacy of a trail blazer for civil engagement.”
Along with visiting the National Civil Rights Museum, students will also tour Lemoyne-Owen College, Rust College, Wiley College, Paul Quinn College, and Phanlder Smith College.
Other principals like Harlan principal Ramona Outlaw, agreed this would be a great opportunity for students.
Ten of her seniors will be participating in the trip.
“I’m very excited,” said China Martin, a 17-year-old South Shore resident. It’ll be the Harlan HS student’s first time in the city.
Martin said she recognizes the significance of this trip because of when they’re going.
“I’ve never been so I’m very excited to see in person what I’ve only read and heard about,” she said, adding that she will definitely reflect on the past while there.
“I feel like [as a country], we’re not where we should be, but under the influence of Dr. King, we can build something more in unity,” Martin said. “We need to come together and make this one big America for everyone to enjoy and live in.”
Classmate Devon Smith from Chatham, who visited as a boy, said that some form of reflection is needed this time.
“I feel like when we do trips like this and learn about what African-Americans have went through in the past, it’s a good refresher of where we were before and where we are now,” said the 18-year-old senior.
Smith said he believes one of the biggest issues this country still faces is inequality. He said that King would want his generation to push for change.
“Dr. King would want us to continue to fight for equality, whether it’s race or gender equality,” he said. “But not only that, for whatever else we believe in.”
He and Martin said they’re also looking forward to the college tours. Neither have decided on a school yet.
“I know we’re going to other schools and we’re going to meet a lot of people so I’m looking forward to networking with people,” Smith said.
And for Martin, she said she’s excited to visit some out-of-state colleges and learn more about majors since she’s still undecided.
“No one in my family has ever went to a college or really ever traveled outside of Chicago, so I’ll have multiple experiences,” she said.
Their principal said that she hopes all of the students understand the historical significance of the day, as well as become exposed to even more colleges and universities.
“We want students to be exposed to as many on campus visits as possible prior to choosing the post secondary community that they will soon call home,” Outlaw said. “Many of these students have all received scholarship offers from the institutions they will visit.”
Varn said the plan is to start sending graduates to those HBCU campuses so when new graduates attend, they will already have a support system waiting.