Smithsonian Student Travel | Student Journey | Washington, D.C. & Alabama
Engage with issues of race and equity in America on this high school summer program as you travel from Washington, D.C., to Alabama. Begin in the nation’s capital to deepen your understanding of the impacts of racism and systemic injustice in the U.S. Examine the legacy of racism during visits to Smithsonian Museums. Meet with elected officials, lobbyists, and advocates to discuss the challenges and opportunities of policy creation. Then embark on a journey through the American South to Alabama and meet with grassroots organizations, historians, and artists. Visit historic sites to see firsthand where contemporary social justice issues and movements originated. Explore inspiring initiatives and movements working to dismantle racist policy nationally, and develop concrete plans to enact in your communities back home.
Discover the connections between mass incarceration and slavery
Learn from grassroots activists and advocates seeking solutions
Meet with members of the Equal Justice Initiative
Explore civil rights landmarks to investigate origins of inequality
This itinerary represents our best projection of the group’s schedule. However, we may implement changes designed to improve the quality of the program.
Departure • Travel Day • Meet your student travel group and trip leaders in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C. • 5 days • Begin your program in the nation’s capital with a group orientation to get to know your peers, then start to develop a shared understanding of the social justice issues you’ll engage with over the course of the trip. At the National Museum of the American Indian, join a guided walkthrough of the expansive Americans exhibition and enjoy a special performance of the play Hear Me Say My Name. Then, explore powerful exhibitions and artifacts at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and culture. Examine the historical constructions of race, how conceptions of race have changed over the centuries, the legacy of racism in the United States, and how systemic racism manifests in the 21st century. Consider how injustice might be addressed with legislation and policy at the national level, gaining insights from elected officials, lobbyists, nonprofit organizers, and advocates.
Montgomery, Alabama • 3 days • Next, head south for the rolling hills and red-dirt roads of Alabama. Visit the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and learn about the victims of racial terror lynchings. Walk in the footsteps of civil rights legends including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, John Lewis and the Freedom Riders, and spend evenings in Montgomery’s vibrant riverfront downtown. Meet with lawyers who advocate for vulnerable populations and get briefed on a case, discuss issues of justice at play, and brainstorm ways to move forward through legal and social action. Explore the connections between the country’s history of slavery and mass incarceration. Learn about barriers to and benefits of prison education programs, see student work, and plan a lesson. Hear stories of wrongful imprisonment and discuss remedies to these injustices.
Selma, Alabama • 2 days • In Selma, walk across the iconic Edmund Pettus Bridge, and spend the afternoon with a local activist and educator. Learn about the state’s difficult path to integration—from George C. Wallace’s infamous “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” to the present-day de facto segregation of sororities and fraternities. Interview Selma residents who remember what life was like before the civil rights movement, and get their take on what has changed and what has not.
Birmingham, Alabama • 3 days • Visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, a Smithsonian Affiliate, to learn about the ongoing struggle for civil rights and practice approaching complex topics with an open mind. Uncover the connections between historical events and modern social realities and movements, such as Black Lives Matter. Visit the Alabama African-American Civil Rights Heritage Sites Consortium and learn about the protection and preservation of sites associated with the civil rights movement. Learn to recognize how systems of oppression continue to shape communities and cultures throughout the U.S., debate the merits of different approaches to criminal justice and policing reform. Celebrate your time together with your group and brainstorm ways to bring what you’ve learned home with you to your community.
Return • Travel Day • Fly from Birmingham to your final destination.
Smithsonian Student Travel Expert
The expert highlighted below will join the group for a portion of the itinerary to add their expertise and insight to the program theme.
Ahmad Ward, Civil Rights Historian
Ahmad Ward is the Executive Director for the Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. The mission of the park is to preserve, promote, and honor Historic Mitchelville, the first self-governed town of formerly enslaved people in the U.S. Prior to this position, Ahmad spent 15 years leading the Education Department at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Alabama, where he honed his expertise in telling the story of civil and human rights in America, focusing on historic analysis and application to current social justice issues. He received his bachelor’s degree in art and his master’s in museum studies. He is also a board member of the Association of African American Museums, a member of Rotary of Hilton Head Island Club, and on the Southeastern Museums Conference Jekyll Island Management Institute (JIMI) Selection Board. He is a former member of the Smithsonian Affiliates Advisory Board. Ahmad’s hobbies include drawing, watching sports, cooking, and fantasy football. He and his wife Dafina have two brilliant daughters.
What to Expect
Accommodations • Accommodations at each of our stops are comfortable hotels or hostels with shared rooms separated by gender. Leaders reside with students throughout the program.
Climate • Summers in Washington, D.C., are warm and humid with highs in the mid-80s °F and lows in the 50s. Alabama is similarly warm and humid, with daytime highs averaging 90°F and lows in the 60s and 70s at night.
Meals • We enjoy meals at local restaurants and cafes, and sometimes take picnic lunches to local parks.
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