Students from Youngstown high schools participate in a ten day journey to Civil Rights sites in the South called Sojourn to the Past. They travel to Atlanta, Selma, Montgomery, Birmingham, Meridian and Hattiesburg (Mississippi), Jackson, Little Rock and Memphis, and they meet many of the people who participated in the Civil Rights Movement such as:
- Congressman John Lewis
- Rev. Clark Olson, who was with Rev. James Reeb when he was killed the day after Bloody Sunday in Selma
- The McNair family, the remaining relatives of one of the four little girls killed by the Klan in the church bombing in Birmingham
- Elizabeth Eckford and Minnijean Brown Trickey of the Little Rock Nine.
They also learn the lessons of the Movement such as:
- Civic responsibility
- Not being a silent witness
Each fall Jeff Steinberg, creator and director of Sojourn to the Past, visits Youngstown high schools to speak to students about the lessons of the Civil Rights Movement and the ten day Civil Rights journey called Sojourn to the Past. Students are then able to fill out an application to participate in the ten day experience. In order to be considered for the trip, they must write a 300 word essay explaining why they want to participate and what they are willing to do when they return to Youngstown.Students are selected based on their essay as well as teacher and principal recommendations. In 2011 there will also be an interview. Students must be willing to attend weekly sessions to read and discuss Congressman John Lewis’s book, Walking With the Wind, and to work on fundraising. Students are chosen from each of the three Youngstown high schools.
You can view executive summary of Sojourn to the Past by clicking this link: Sojourn-to-the-Past-Executive-Summary-1011-1
Youngstown Sojourn students meet weekly for several months before taking the journey to help with fund raising and to prepare for the trip. They read Congressman John Lewis’s book, Walking With the Wind, and answer study guide questions. In the spring, students fly to Atlanta where they meet Jeff Steinberg, creator and director of Sojourn to the Past, as well as many students from California high schools. This is a working trip for the students. They have lessons before meeting any speakers or going to any historical sites, and they have homework daily such as articles to read, questions to answer, letters to write to speakers, and a journal to keep. In Atlanta, they have workshops on the principles of nonviolence and institutionalized racism. They learn that during the Civil Rights Movement, people were willing to suffer, even die trying to gain equal rights.
Students are constantly asked, “What are you willing to put your life on the line for? How are you going to make a difference when you go home?”
In Memphis, students meet as a school system to develop an action plan to implement when they return home. Youngstown Sojourn students’ action plans included:
- In 2007 and 2008, Youngstown sojourn students registered over 500 high school students to vote and provided voter education since many died in the South just trying to register to vote.
- In 2009, the students registered over 300 high school students to vote.
- They designed a nonviolence week for Youngstown schools.
- They wrote a nonviolence workshop, created nonviolence work walls, wrote PA announcements focusing on a principle of nonviolence and highlighting a person who exemplified that principle, designed nonviolence t-shirts for students to wear during the week selling over 1700, distributed large posters of the principles of nonviolence for principals to hang in their building.
- Five nonviolence billboards were placed around Youngstown.
- Minnijean Brown Trickey, one of the Little Rock Nine, came to Youngstown and taught the Sojourn students to be facilitators for the workshops.
The mayor and city council passed resolutions declaring the week of October 2-8, 2009 Nonviolence Week in the city.
- The 2010 Sojourn students continued with voter registration and Nonviolence Week.
They petitioned the school board, the city council, and the YSU trustees asking them to make the first week in October Nonviolence Week and to make it an annual event. All three governing bodies passed resolutions designating the first week in October Nonviolence Week annually.
- The 2011 Sojourn students continued with voter registration and voter education. They will organize the nonviolence parade and program on October 2, 2011 in downtown Youngstown. They have planned numerous activities for Nonviolence Week in the schools including a day of silence, a day for three acts of kindness and a day to sign a nonviolence pledge.
- In 2012 the Mahoning County commissioners passed a resolution making the first week in October Nonviolence Week in the county. Also, the Second Annual Nonviolence Parade was held with plaques given for the best float and the best banner. A trophy was given for the best representation of Nonviolence and it went to East High School. This trophy is a roving trophy and someone else will win it this year.
- 2013 – at the request of Youngstown Sojourn students, Senator Schiavoni introduced “Nonviolence Week in Ohio” bill in the Senate in January. It passed the Senate in April. Two Sojourn students testified before the House of Representatives in May. The House passed the bill in June. On July11, 2013 Governor Kasich signed the bill into law. Sojourn students are now working on getting the word out across the state.
This is a life changing trip! Students realize they have the power to make a difference in their own lives and in their schools and communities, and they can make that difference right now.
Principles of Nonviolence
I. Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
II. Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.
III. Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people.
IV. Nonviolence hopes that suffering can educate and transform.
V. Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.
VI. Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.