Students, Faculty Conduct Service-Learning Project in Memphis

Thirty-four students and six faculty members from Eastern Kentucky University spent several days recently on a cultural and service-learning excursion to Memphis. The trip, sponsored by the African/African American Studies Program, was the culmination of the EKU celebration of Black History Month.

The students and faculty participated in a service-learning opportunity for The Martin Luther King Jr. Student Transition Academy, which serves students who have been temporarily expelled from public school. The EKU group worked with students in eighth grade through senior year, organizing, facilitating, and presenting a mini-conference about college and other opportunities after high school. A celebration of African-American authors concluded the time spent at the Academy.

The EKU contingent also organized an African/African American Read-In to help the school celebrate its heritage and Black History Month. Prior to the trip, students organized a fund-raising effort that enabled the donation of 145 EKU backpacks full of school supplies, school uniforms and a box of books written by African American authors, donated by the EKU Bookstore. The books were the first for Transition Academy’s library.

“The experience at the MLK Transition Academy was very moving for our students,” said Dr. Salome Nnoromele, director of EKU’s African/African American Studies Program. “Our students want to do a book drive to obtain additional books for the school and to help establish a library for the school. In addition, several students would like the opportunity, given funding, to go back to the school and work with the students again.”

The EKU group also took a historical tour of Memphis and visited the National Civil Rights Museum, The Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum, the Art Museum at the University of Memphis, the Memphis Zoo, Beale Street and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.

“I am coming back with an open mind to cultural differences and also opening my eyes to how horrible and dangerous hate really is,” said student Whitney Johnson.

“The trip was life-changing for me,” said student Silas Burris. “It brought history to life, both the good and the bad, and made it so real to everyone that you couldn’t help but feel moved.”

Dr. LeAnn Beaty, assistant professor of government at EKU, said the trip to the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum was particularly moving for the visitors.

“When we were down in that basement, with the light shining through a hole in the wall which gave birth to freedom for some, death for others, one of our students reached out and took my hand as we walked out of there,” Beaty said. “That gesture, and all it implied, literally brought tears to my eyes.”

Nnoromele said such service-learning projects and educational trips “offer invaluable learning environments and opportunities for our students. They teach and expose our students to many life challenges and opportunities in our larger communities and provide students the skills and the knowledge to participate and make a difference.”

Published on March 15, 2011