Published: Aug. 19, 2014

Learning about civil rights first-hand from U.S. Rep. John Lewis

Contact(s): Stepheni Schlinker Office of Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education office: (517) 884-8011, Kristen Parker University Communications office: (517) 353-8942 cell: (517) 980-0709

“March Book One,” written by U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., is this year’s One Book, One Community selection for the City of East Lansing and Michigan State University.

Lewis, the only living “Big Six” leader of the American civil rights movement, will be in East Lansing on Aug. 25 at the East Lansing Hannah Community Center to talk about his experiences as a key figure in the civil rights movement.

Additionally, he will address the incoming MSU freshman class at the Academic Welcome in the Jack Breslin Student Events Center at 9 a.m. that same day.

Lewis was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, playing a key role in the struggle to end legalized racial discrimination and segregation.

Recently, participants of the Michigan GEAR UP program, located on MSU’s campus, traveled to Washington, D.C., and while there, visited Lewis.

“I thought it was important to expose these students to the living history lesson that is Washington, D.C., and to a variety of universities beyond MSU to create potential options for them at a young age,” said Samantha Luna-Simmons, Michigan GEAR UP program coordinator and architect of the Washington, D.C., trip. “Beyond the university visits, the students were able to learn about history first-hand via their visits to the monuments as well as from their visit with Rep. Lewis.”

During their visit with Lewis, the GEAR UP students watched a short film about Lewis’ role in the Civil Rights Movement and they had their photo taken with him on the U.S. Capitol steps.

Prior to their trip to Washington, D.C., many of the students had read “March Book One,” which is a first-hand account of Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights.

“I think the visit with Rep. Lewis was the highlight of the trip because GEAR UP is a TRIO-based program and the TRIO programs were created in an effort to open the door to higher education for low-income young people who otherwise might not have that opportunity,” said Pamela Belllamy, director of the Michigan GEAR UP program. “I wanted them to understand that the sacrifices Rep. Lewis made and the work he did paved the way for these students to have access to the GEAR UP program.”

The GEAR UP students who participated in the trip wrote an essay about why they wanted to go to Washington, D.C., and participated in in-person interviews in which they had to talk about their skills, strengths and weaknesses, and they hoped to learn from the experience. Among the 67 students who applied, 42 were chosen to participate in the trip.

“I am glad I got to have this experience, as it taught me a lot,” said Ashley Flint, from Jackson High School. “I learned so many things about the memorials and the history of Washington, D.C. When we learn about history in school now, I am able to say I have been to this place and I know a bit about it. It is something not everyone my age gets to experience and I am very grateful for the opportunity.”

GEAR UP is a statewide, sustained and collaborative effort that provides early intervention services and a scholarship component to low-income, underrepresented students and parents. The MSU GEAR UP program serves students in the Albion, Detroit, Jackson and Lansing school districts. The program begins in seventh grade and follows through high school graduation and into college.

Students participating in the Michigan GEAR UP program visited Washington, D.C., where they met U.S. Rep John Lewis.

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