2018 marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. It is also the 10th anniversary of Bay Path University’s One America, an on-the-road learning experience with requirements that include pre-trip classroom study, a willingness to try new cuisine, an openness to art and culture, and an adventurous spirit to take in the diversity of America. Students, staff, and faculty as part of the annual One America class trip departed sub-zero Massachusetts and headed south for warmer climes last week to experience a powerful piece of our nation’s history: the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The significance of this date inspired Robert Surbrug, PhD, director of the University’s honors program and associate professor of history, to plan the course and corresponding trip based on Dr. King’s life and work.
“When I realized the 10th One America trip fell on the year of the 50th commemoration of Dr. King’s death, I knew we had to make the theme of the 2018 trip and fall course, ‘The Life and Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.,’” Surbrug said. “This trip combines all the civil rights sites visited on previous One America trips: the King Center in Atlanta, the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma and, for the third time, the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. The fact that the One America trip is a decade old and has over a hundred Bay Path alumni is something that really distinguishes Bay Path and highlights the University’s commitment to experiential learning.”
Active community member and husband to Bay Path Univeristy President Carol Leary, Noel Leary, was an undergraduate student at St. Bonaventure University when he met Dr. King in 1963. Dr. King was accepting the St. Francis Peace Medal and one of the professors who taught at St. Bonaventure was assisting Dr. King with the writing of his acceptance speech. This professor brought Leary and about four other students into the precession, where they were able to attend workshops afterwards.
The workshops and meeting with Dr. King were significant to Leary and inspired him to take part in Dr. King’s The Poor People’s Campaign from 1967-1968 when he was a graduate student. During this campaign, Leary and dozens of other college students were actively organizing peaceful demonstrations, gathering college campus communities to help out with the causes Dr. King and other advocates stood for, and helping certain impoverished areas by providing them with shelter and food. Leary’s work on this campaign during the incredibly tense Civil Rights and poverty movements still leaves an impact on him to this day.
“It was a very emotional experience for me. Having met Dr. King and wanting to follow his ideals, I was given the opportunity to make a difference. I was a worker bee and one of literally dozens and dozens of college kids and individuals doing this. It wasn’t always exciting, but the work needed to be done,” recalled Noel Leary, husband to Bay Path University’s President Carol Leary. “In order to work with Dr. King, you had to be trained in nonviolence because it was a core essential to our work. Dr. King always encouraged us to listen when it was difficult, and we worked hard as a team to get things right and help the people who needed it. We listened to their needs. Though this was a time of great tension and challenges, the work we did was worth it to help those in need. As a young college student, this experience shaped me.”
When asked about the One America theme this year being “The Life and Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Leary commented on just how necessary and impactful these particular locations are to see firsthand:
“After chatting with Dr. Surbrug about the trip, I told him how important it was to make it real for the students. Instead of seeing this trip as a pilgrimage or an opportunity to make a comparison between the past and the present, students have the opportunity to experience, reflect, and identify with it in a personal way. It greatly impacted my life and it’s important we don’t miss the opportunity to listen, put the youthful idealism aside, and fully experience the history.”
The One America travelers began their weeklong trip in Atlanta, Georgia--the birthplace of Dr. King. From there, they explored historical events surrounding the civil rights movement and Dr. King's influence by visiting museums and memorials, and enjoying diverse American cuisine in Montgomery, Alabama, Selma, Alabama, and Memphis, Tennessee.
To learn more about what the students experienced on their trip, visit their blog.