They were much too young for a personal connection, but there they stood. Some teary-eyed, others transfixed with a lump in their throat. A few weeks before the recent 50-year commemorations of “Bloody Sunday,” a group of more than 40 high school students from Syracuse, Rome and Utica stood hushed at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, scene of one of the most defining moments of the civil rights era.
“It was quite an emotional stop on our tour of historically black colleges and universities,” said Jawwaad Rasheed, an Oneida County family court magistrate and Education Committee chairman for 100 Black Men of Syracuse Inc. “These young men and women actually walked across the bridge and visited the site under the bridge where slave auctions were once held.”
Like the marchers seeking the right to vote a half-century before, this delegation of Central New York students were in Selma, Alabama on their way to Montgomery, more specifically Alabama State University. But on this February day, they weren’t met with nightsticks and tear gas or dogs unleashed by state troopers and a hostile sheriff’s posse. Fifty years after the violent confrontation of ‘Bloody Sunday,” these students from the North were at the Pettus Bridge during the first stop of a week-long bus trip to nine HBCU schools sponsored by Junior Frontiers of the Mohawk Valley and supported by the 100.
For the past eight years, 100 Black Men of Syracuse has provided financial help for students from the Syracuse area to travel on the tour. Two members of the organization served as chaperones during this year’s trip. Thanks to the 100’s help, four students from the Syracuse area on the 2014 tour received full academic scholarships at HBCU schools. This year, five students participating in the 100’s STEP 1 mentoring programs were among the 21 Syracuse-area students in the delegation. The lone senior among the five was offered admission to each school. Nazere Jones, a senior at Corcoran High School in Syracuse, was also offered tuition-free admission to the school of engineering at four HBCU institutions the students visited during the tour.
In addition to Alabama State College, the students met with representatives and recruiters at Tuskegee University, Morehouse and Spellman Colleges, Clark-Atlanta University, North Carolina State University and Hampton University. Before their return, they also visited the Rosa Park Museum in Montgomery as well as the Martin Luther King Jr. Center, Ebenezer Baptist Church and MLK home in Atlanta, Ga.