SJ-R: Walking in the footsteps of heroes
Mar 5 -
By Alissa Groeninger
The State Journal-Register
Springfield High School senior Onsi Aaron Kamel this past weekend joined a civil rights pioneer and a central Illinois congressman to walk in the footsteps of those who fought for equality.
“The entire trip was amazing, and it was really neat to just be able to see all of these people who play such an important role in government now and have played such an important part in civil rights,” Onsi said.
U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Peoria, invited Onsi and Peoria Richwoods High School senior Lydia Amissah on the 13th Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage. Led by U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, the students, and dozens of senators and representatives, visited Alabama sites that played important roles in the civil rights movement. Friday through Sunday, the pilgrimage toured sites of some of the country’s most harrowing and painful experiences.
Lewis is considered one of the most prominent civil rights activists. He marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and served as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
“I think (it was incredible) just going to all of these places from history that most people, at least of my generation, I think, have only ever read about,” Onsi said. “These (people and places are) almost mythic figures and mythic places.”
This year, the country celebrates the 50th anniversary of the desegregation of the University of Alabama. Onsi and the group visited Tuscaloosa, where then-Alabama Gov. George Wallace tried to block black students from entering the college. The pilgrimage moved to Birmingham, where four black girls were killed in a 1969 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. The group also visited the Rosa Parks Museum.
On Sunday, Onsi and the others re-enacted a march from Selma to Montgomery. Participants marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge with political figures including Vice President Joe Biden.
“(Meeting these figures) gives a sense of encouragement,” Onsi said. “They were people who did the right thing.
“It’s important because the more distant history becomes, the less likely people are to pay attention to it ... . The past does have valuable lessons for us to learn and we need to take heed of what’s happened and not just ignore it and confine it to the history books.”
During the trip, Onsi listened as the current Montgomery, Ala., police chief formally apologized, on behalf of the department, to Lewis for how Freedom Riders were treated in May 1961. Freedom Riders rode interstate buses into the south to test a 1960 Supreme Court ruling that banned segregation in all interstate public facilities. In Montgomery, police allowed mobs to beat Lewis and fellow activists.
Chief Kevin Murphy also presented his own uniform badge to Lewis.
“You could see that Congressman Lewis was really touched by that,” Onsi said.
These opportunities allow students to learn more than they will in a text book, Lydia said.
“If you’re allowed to experience it, I think it will be better for you. You’ll learn more,” she said.
Alissa Groenigner can be reached at 788-1542. Follow her at twitter.com/a_groeninger
Read here: http://www.sj-r.com/features/x1037519463/Walking-in-the-footsteps-of-heroes