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International students and scholars participate in second annual Black History Month field trip

In recognition of Black History Month, International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) led a group of international students and scholars — representing every continent except for Antarctica — on a visit to the King Center and National Center for Civil and Human Rights. The late February trip aimed to provide international students and scholars with the opportunity to experience Atlanta’s history and gain a greater understanding of American culture.

“Many at Emory are familiar with our ISSS immigration advising functions. However, another important aspect of our office and its mission is to facilitate opportunities for intercultural learning and social engagement for our international students and scholars,” says assistant vice provost Shinn Ko. “We are proud to offer this field trip for the second year to provide Emory’s international community with a chance to learn about America’s civil rights history in a more direct way.”

In addition to coming from diverse locations around the world, field trip attendees also represented a wide range of perspectives and life experiences, including students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels and scholars conducting research at Emory.

Describing his motivation behind participating in the trip, Emmanuel Ackah, a master’s student at Rollins School of Public Health from Ghana, says, “I’ve heard a lot about the struggle of Black people in American history. Where I come from everyone is the same, so I wanted to get a peek into this history. It’s quite overwhelming and puts in perspective some things we take for granted.”

As Sreejani Chaudhury, an Indian student pursuing a PhD in mathematics, says, “learning about these issues in textbooks is one thing but experiencing it firsthand was an opportunity I couldn't pass up.” 

Experiencing the National Center for Civil and Human Rights

The first stop on the trip was a visit to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights (NCCHR), located in downtown Atlanta. Opened in 2014, the mission of the NCCHR is to educate visitors about “the history of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States; and stories from the struggle for human rights around the world today” as well as inspire people to change the world around them in a positive manner.

Attendees had the opportunity to view exhibitions featuring the papers and artifacts of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the history of the civil rights movement in the United States and stories from the struggle for human rights around the world today. Ragip Gurlek, a student from Turkey pursuing his PhD at Goizueta Business School, found the lunch counter sit-in exhibit particularly impactful.

“I was in the shoes of lunch counter protestors and their dilemma of being there for a cause but also risking their life. I’m not sure if I’d have been as courageous as them,” says Gurlek.  

For Yonah Byarugaba, a student in the master of science in business analytics program from Uganda, this happened to be “the wide-reaching impact of the Civil Rights Movement, beyond just the fight against racial segregation. It showed how the movement touched on various aspects of human rights, emphasizing the interconnectedness of all people’s struggle for dignity and respect.”

Attendees also had the opportunity to discuss some of the ways in which the issues of civil rights have manifested in their home countries and how these related to the history of civil rights in the U.S.

A visit to the King Center

The next stop on the field trip was the King Center, located just east of downtown Atlanta. During their visit, attendees saw an exhibit at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park Visitor Center that provided an overview of King’s life and the civil rights movement.

A guided tour, led by a National Parks Service ranger, proved to be particularly impactful and offered an up-close look at the impact King had on the civil rights movement and American history.

Beginning at the crypts — the final resting place of King and his wife, Coretta Scott King — students learned about the history of the King Center and its educational mission. Students also visited Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King was baptized and later served as co-pastor with his father; the fire station for an experiential presentation about segregation; and King’s childhood neighborhood and home.

Toward the end of the exhibit, participants encountered a painting of King accompanied by a quote from one of his speeches: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” Reflecting on the visit to the King Center, Hanti Jiang, an undergraduate student from China, commented she found this quote to be “inspiring and applicable to human rights in general, serving as a nice way to sum up everything we’ve learned” through the course of the day. 

Photos by Liliana Lim and a King Center volunteer.

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