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Queens College community retraces the footsteps of Dr. King

Photo courtesy of Raj Maheshwari
Photo courtesy of Raj Maheshwari

Queens College went down to Atlanta, Georgia to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr’s “Legacy of Courage” in 14 different events, from marching with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to helping feed the needy.

Eighteen students and staff traveled south, from January 18th to the 22nd, as an immersive, outside the classroom learning experience. The group also met with a few iconic figures from the Civil Rights movement.

The first person the group met was Peter Geffen, the founder of Abraham Heschel Day School and veteran member of the Summer Community Organization and Political Education, a project that led white college students between 1961 and 1966 to help black communities in the South register to vote, according to the Civil Rights Movement Veterans Organization website.

“Geffen said he would go door to door, in the most rural areas in the south, trying to get black communities to sign up to vote. Some would be scared, but once he said he represented Martin Luther King Jr, they would sign up immediately,” said Farrah Serjooie, 27, junior and fellow at the Center for Ethnic, Racial and Religious Understanding.

The next day, January 19th, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, The QC group took part in community service, helping feed the needy at an event organized by Dr. Barbara Williams-Emerson, secretary to the Board of Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless and president of Emerson Educational and Management Consultants.

“Participating with Hosea Feed the Hungry was awesome. They help so many people in so many ways. I woke up the next day wanting to do it again. I also want to volunteer more with soup kitchens and the homeless in Queens,” said Sharice Richards, 22, senior.

Dr. Williams-Emerson’s organization is named after her father, Hosea Williams, who worked directly with Martin Luther King, and helped with the Freedom Summer voter registration campaign, according to PBS.

“Hosea was also a director in the organization of the Selma march! The work they do is truly remarkable! I felt that Barbara Williams-Emerson was so genuinely caring and knowledgeable. Her father’s biography was truly amazing, Barbara shared how he escaped death – twice!  They believed that his life had been spared for a reason, and it surely was,” said Sanaa Mylan, 24, alumni.

The same day, the group walked in the Annual King Holiday March and Rally, a yearly march conducted by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an African-American civil rights organization that heavily influenced the civil rights movement, and whose first president was Dr. King.

Colleges from around Georgia recognized the QC banner and were happy that they marched, said Serjooie.

“It was so exciting to be recognized for the struggles QC went through for the Civil Rights movement, I would have never thought we would actually be known,” said Serjooie.

They also met with Judge U.W. Clemon, the first African-American to reach a federal level of judge in the state of Alabama in 1980, as well as successfully leading a boycott on downtown Birmingham stores in 1962, sparking interest in Dr. King to begin activism in Birmingham, according to Columbia Law Magazine.

The last person they met was Ambassador Andrew Jackson Young, first African-American U.S. Ambassador in the United Nations, appointed by President Jimmy Carter, former U.S. Congressman, the first African-American elected from the Deep South, and former Mayor of Atlanta, according to andrewjyoungfoundation.org.

“Ambassador Young said you can’t be controlled by money or fear. He never became rich by being a civil rights activist or the Mayor of Atlanta, but his kids made it through college and he never starved,” said Richards.

It was the first time this trip was done, proposed by Rabbi Moshe Shur, an adjunct professor of Jewish Studies at QC, specializing in Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism and experimental education. Rabbi Shur was national chairman of the SCOPES program and is still friends with Geffen, who both met Dr. King that summer in 1965.

“What I wanted was students to relive and follow the steps of Dr. King. He shared his dream and it became my dream for humanity. I’ve been back to Atlanta, but not to do this, it was dream-like,” said Rabbi Moshe.

Planning started in Summer 2014 until it took off. There are hopes to make it an annual tradition, said Kayla Maryles, Coordinator of Student Life at QC.

“In my opinion this trip was about experiential learning; getting outside of the classroom to really take in the history lessons that are so relevant to current times.  To really be in the moment, in the place, to stand where leaders stood and experience the history in real life,” said Maryles.

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