For many years, Taylor students have had the opportunity to venture south on bus trips to visit landmark locations from the history of the civil rights movement.
This year, for the first time, university alumni will have the opportunity to make this journey alongside current faculty members and Interim President Paige Cunningham and her husband.
According to Greg Dyson, special assistant to the president for intercultural initiatives and one of the trip’s leaders, four key cities were carefully selected to visit.
Traveling by bus, the trip will leave on Jan. 16 and return on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day in time to attend chapel and participate in the related campus activities. In each city they will visit prominent historical sites, museums and teaching sites.
“If we planned twenty-five tours, there are certainly twenty-five other cities to also visit,” Dyson said. “So it’s notable that we have three other tours coming up in the next twelve months and we anticipate them visiting other cities.”
The trip was first proposed during conversation between Dyson and Brad Yordy, executive director of Parent and alumni relations, who was looking for ways his department could engage with multicultural and multiethnic opportunities. They became interested in the idea of leading a tour together, something Dyson had facilitated in his previous role at Cedarville University.
The desire to begin planning the trip — which Yordy hopes will be the first of many — came from a larger goal to engage university alumni, providing shared experiences rather than just university updates.
His office has sought ways to facilitate lifetime learning experiences, both on campus and off. Yordy said he hopes this trip will encourage engagement on important topics.
“These sites will be very challenging,” Yordy said. “I haven’t been to most of them. Being able to interact with places and stories with people who know them well will help us all work through them from intellectual, emotional and spiritual levels.”
Leading the trip along with Dyson and Yordy will be Jesse Brown, dean of students, who led a class to similar historical sites in his previous job at Huntington University.
Brown views his role as that of a reflective tour guide. He will be providing articles for participants ahead of time to lend background insight on the places that they will be visiting. Throughout the trip, he plans to encourage dialogue about the things that will be seen and heard and how they apply to life and the church.
“These are some of my favorite places on earth,” Brown said. “They are very sacred places that tell a story of courage and resilience, reflected through a difficult and confrontational time.”
He hopes that participants will come on the trip in the posture of a student, to learn about civil rights history and take it home with them.
Compared to the student trips, alumni attendants will come from many different geographic locations, communities and walks of life. Brown hopes that they will bring what they learn and their experiences on the trip back home.
“I hope they leave with a greater depth of understanding of these chapters in history and application for today,” he said. “What can we learn from history for today? What connections to the struggle for equality today? What was the church’s role then and what is it now?”
Dialogue on these issues is familiar to Student Body President Anders Soderquist, who went twice on civil rights trips as a student.
He remembers his first trip in 2017, shortly after the 2016 presidential election. In the midst of a national sense of division, fear and anger, he found a conducive place to share, to hear different perspectives and to find hope.
For Soderquist, one of the most memorable aspects of the trip was the people he met along the way, whether a young man in line for ice cream wearing a camo hat or the host at Dr. Martin Luther King’s house. Conversations with new people from different walks of life encouraged him to see new, loving perspectives.
“I would hope that if you meet anyone on the trip that you would normally shy away from talking to, for whatever reason, go and begin a conversation,” he encouraged potential attendants.
Brad Yordy said people interested should act fast, as slots are expected to fill up almost instantly. Registration for the trip opens Oct. 30 at 8 a.m. at taylor.edu/civilrightsbustour.