June 16th 2022
The lights dimmed upon the stage as a scene ended and the audience gasped as an actress said the final cutting word in an outburst. “Damn,” a student next to me, eyes wide, then covered his mouth and smiled, “I didn’t mean to say that out loud.” I laughed but fully understood the sentiment. The musical Grace in Ford’s Theater was beautifully passionate and it was only one part of our 11th Grade DC trip.
The UrbanTrekkers DC Trip began in the winter of 2005 and despite a number of changes and twists and turns, the trip still continues as a yearly Trekker tradition. With a focus on history, heritage, and our place in our country, the DC trip rounds out our outdoor trips with something that can sometimes touch a little closer to home. We were lucky this year to not have to brave the cold to enjoy some of the highlights of the US capitol.
One such area of discussion was in our visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Our students had requested that we visit the site before the trip so we made it part of our second day’s schedule. The museum held a great many exhibits, one group favorite was their music exhibit where many many African-American artists were shown with some of their memorabilia and some clips of their music. Some of the exhibits even had set pieces from concerts and music videos. The museum also contained much food for thought. For every one of the museum’s celebrations of culture and achievement, was also a mourning and remembering of the losses of the present and past African-American. Instruments of torture and enslavement were shown alongside some pictures of the brutalities that the enslaved people of this country suffered. But I think what held an even greater power was the stories of those same enslaved people that changed the world and even their own oppressive country for the better. People like Frederick Douglass who once said, “It is easier to build strong children than fix broken men.”
Perhaps it was in the aftermath of Grace where we could see some of that impact. Our children, gleeful to meet the various members of the cast, were surprised to find that many of them, when out of costume and make-up removed, were not too different from them. When we approached one of the actresses asking for an autograph on our playbills, she asked where we had come from, we responded with a short explanation of UrbanPromise Academy and Camden. Eyes going wide, she exclaimed that she was from Philadelphia. A short conversation followed with growing excitement of how happy she was to have students from just outside the city that she grew up in. The students left the theater with autographs in hand clenched tightly. When I asked them about the moment, some of our students were completely speechless, others were unable to say enough words to say what they were feeling. As we walked back to our lodgings for the night, I almost said what my friend earlier had said during the play, “Damn.”