The Official Blog of The Bement School


Meg O'Brien, Director of Residential Life and Upper School History Teacher

Stepping out of one's comfort zone is never easy, but would you step out if it meant you would be part of an experience that would improve your life? This is exactly what I did. The Institute for Common Power provided me with the experience of a lifetime as I stepped out of my comfort zone and participated in a five-day teaching seminar that took me and 31 other educators from across the country to locations in Georgia and Alabama, learning about the modern-day civil rights movement and the history of enslavement to incarceration. Dr. Terry Anne Scott, the educational director of the Institute for Common Power, was our lead professor, engaging us daily with thought-provoking and important lectures. 

As a history teacher, I have learned the importance of building on my knowledge of our history and African American history, just like Asian American and Native American history is OUR history. When I applied to this program in the fall, I knew I would go on a trip and learn history. That is what excited me about being accepted into the program. But, over the five days, not only did I learn that history, I confronted the privileges and security I am allowed daily due to my skin color. I had hard conversations with members of my group about how being black is what black people have been fighting for since they were kidnapped from Africa and placed on slave ships. From that moment, black men, women, and children have been fighting for their rights and freedom in a nation that still refuses to acknowledge their role. 

As we went from historical site to historical site, stepping in the footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, Diane Nash, and countless others, we had the honor of spending time with Mr. Charles Mauldin, who, at the age of 17, engaged young people in the city of Selma and marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday. We enjoyed dinner with Dr. Bernard Lafayett and his wife Kate and heard of his experiences as a freedom rider and his work with SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference). Ms. JoAnne Bland, who by the age of 11 had already been arrested 13 times, shared stories of her fight during the marches from Selma and the fight she continues to today, speaking out against racial injustices. We were in the presence of American heroes and absorbed every minute we spent with them.

Looking back on my experience, I continue each day to remember something new and think of the impact that this trip will continue to have on my life, even though I have returned to Massachusetts. I have learned that it is my job to teach the hard history and challenge students to understand that to be better citizens we must listen to others' life experiences and stand up for what is right.

In the words of Poet Laureate Hank Stewart, who spoke to our group and shared his poem, I Accept, “I accept the challenge to stand tall and bold, to fight for justice, to stay on the wall. I'll do what needs to be done, yes. I accept the call, and integrity would stay with me even if we have to stand alone. To speak the truth, no matter who is wrong, you fought the good fight; you completed your assignment, pass me the baton.”


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