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LINKS Academy seniors enjoy ‘mountaintop’ experience

  • Written by Dr. Sybill C. Mitchell
  • Published in News
They stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, at the very spot where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. inspired thousands with the declaration: “I have a dream.” They stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, at the very spot where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. inspired thousands with the declaration: “I have a dream.”

They took a historic look back in time at the U.S. Supreme Court building where a young Thurgood Marshall and his Howard University law professor won a decisive victory with the Brown vs. The Board of Education ruling in 1954, striking a death blow to state laws upholding segregated.

 The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Weekend trip to Washington, D.C. included a stop at the Capitol for members of the Shelby County Links Leadership Academy. (Photo courtesy of Roger Pennyman)

The intricacies and genius of Benjamin Banneker’s survey and design of the nation’s capital were witnessed firsthand.

High school seniors who have participated in the Shelby County LINKS Leadership Academy program this year toured Washington D.C., a culmination of a series of life skills classes designed to prepare young African-American men for successful scholastic and professional careers.

“We started the program three years ago, especially for our boys,” said Lillian Brown, Shelby County LINKS Leadership Academy. “Our trip to Washington was designed not just to give our senior boys a tour, but to offer them an African-American perspective on the valuable contributions African-Americans made to this country.”

Roger Pennyman, proprietor of Pennyman Tours of Atlanta, Ga., guided students to landmark sites.

“We don’t just give a conventional tour, but as we visit the different sites, we want to tell the history and achievements of African Americans and others who are overlooked. So when we talk about Brown vs. Board of Education, they learn about the research that Charles Houston did traveling throughout the South.

“He returned to Howard University and began teaching constitutional law. He understood that segregation in public education could only be defeated by using the Constitution. Thurgood Marshall wins the victory under his mentor, Professor Houston. And he is later appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the first African American to serve in that capacity.”

Brown remembers that the experience, in the words of one senior, was “a life-changing experience.”

“I guess that is the most cherished thing about this trip,” she said. “The boys came away with the sense that the whole experience was life-changing.”

The tour was especially significant because it was taken on Dr. King’s birthday.

“Mr. Pennyman ended the tour by passing out copies of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson,” said Brown. “He took his time and explained that the words were written to help them understand the struggle. And then we sang every verse of the song and really took in its meaning. We were all enriched by the experience, not just the young men.”

In their own words

‘A life changing experience’
by Eddie Wiggins
Senior, Northside H.S.

“The Black History Tour of Washington, DC, in my mind was a life changing experience. It was my first time flying and my first time ever in Washington.

“I really enjoyed every part of the trip, especially the museums. Before I went to Washington, I really didn’t know that much, but when I left, I had a mind full of knowledge that makes me want to show our race’s past that I respect what they did, and I’m going to keep taking advantage of what we have in front of us today.

“Really, I can’t put everything into words, but I would like to say thank you to all the Shelby County Links for the Leadership Academy and this wonderful life changing experience that I won’t forget.”

By Clifton D. Jordan II
Senior, Memphis University School

“When I first learned that my group Leadership Academy Fellows were be taken on a trip to our nation’s capital for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, my mind immediately began to think of the great experiences that I would share with a group of my peers. The time between learning of this experience to the actual departure date passed swiftly, this time was filled with schoolwork, Leadership Academy meetings, and other activities.

“However, this trip has been at the forefront of my mind before everything else. I could not stop imagining the fun I would have, the knowledge I would gain, and I must say I was not disappointed.

“From the time that I left Reagan International Airport, I have had a first class tour around a phenomenal city that is steeped in such a rich history. Mr. Roger Pennyman and his Tour Company have been outstanding hosts. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to learn key elements of African-American history and (be) exposed to the broad depth of historical information from Mr. Pennyman.

“His hospitality and shared knowledge have been incredible. Visiting famous sites such as the Vietnam Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Smithsonian museums, Frederick Douglass’ home, and Howard University, along with the White House has given me a much greater appreciation for the people that have shaped the world in which I live in today.  I believe having taken this tour and sightseeing with a group rather than by alone or with my parents has made the trip even a more spectacular experience.

“I have been able to engage in conversations with the Fellows and the Shelby County Links about topics that allowed me to grow intellectually, spiritually and culturally. I really want to express gratitude for the Shelby County Links themselves, and Leadership Academy Faculty member, attorney Van Turner, for taking the time out of their busy schedules to not only plan this fabulous trip, but also chaperone us, a small group of young men on the way to manhood.

“This has meant so much to me; them taking an interest to develop the potential inside each and every one of us has made this so very special. I will forever remember this trip as being one of the best I have taken with a group of youth. The time I have spent with my Leadership Academy Links Fellows has allowed us to strengthen our friendships and establish new ones.

Our friendships have turned into a brotherhood over the past months, and I want to again thank the Shelby County Links for giving us the chance to have these opportunities, friendships, experiences, and memories for a lifetime.”

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