By Ciara McManus, GCC LOFT college and career readiness manager
During Madison public schools’ spring break, seven high schoolers and staff from Goodman Community Center’s LOFT drove south in a GCC van to tour historically Black colleges and universities and experience the culture of the South.
Shayla Coleman (junior at Madison East High School) and Kiara Lilly (junior at Lafollette High School), along with five other teens, visited four states, three different HBCUs plus Georgia State University and checked out museums, restaurants and more.
While Shayla has always wanted to go to an HBCU, this trip has motivated her to start researching and applying as soon as possible.
“It was amazing to be in a higher learning institution surrounded by people that look like you and have the same culture as you,” she said when speaking of our tour of Alabama State University in Montgomery.
Kiara had a similar experience.
“I always wanted to attend an HBCU,” she said. “But this experience has drawn me to an HBCU in the South. The hospitality, friendliness and joy that we experienced at every school has been inspiring.”
Touring the HBCU campuses was only a part of the journey. Some of the best moments came from experiences in the cities they visited. In Nashville, the National Museum of African American Music gave everyone the opportunity to listen to hundreds of different songs by Black artists throughout American history. In Atlanta, Shayla especially valued the opportunity to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park and see his birthplace home. Shayla, who is passionate about learning about African American history, spent a long time going through every word in the exhibit.
“I like to be a part of the history,” Shayla said.
She hopes to return next year so that she can get the chance to tour the inside of his birthplace home. They didn’t get to do that this year.
In collaboration with Goodman’s TEENworks program, the teens had the opportunity to earn money for the trip using paid TEENworks shifts that focused on budgeting and travel awareness.
As the trip came to a close, both Kiara and Shayla had a chance to reflect on everything they experienced.
“It was so nice to travel over spring break,” Kiara said of the experience. “It’s something I don’t normally get to do.”
The final night of the trip, the table of 10 sat in the middle of the floor at Victor’s Gullah Kitchen in Atlanta. All around the room, people were dancing, laughing and singing. We dug into our food — most of us ordered the same meal: wings, greens, and mac and cheese. Our waitress fills up our water, and then walks up to the stage to take her turn singing karaoke. She had an amazing voice, and the whole room joined her in song. Our table from Madison can’t help but feel this is why we made the 13-hour drive.
As we finished our meal, Kiara found herself coaxed onto the karaoke stage. Holding the hand of our talented waitress, Kiara sang a song in front of the whole restaurant. Even though she was nervous, the support of kind strangers and a room full of happy people got her through the song. We left the place warm with memories and an amazing meal. This is the true spirit of Atlanta, Georgia.
Shayla spoke about how excited she is to participate in this same trip planned for next year. She wants other high schoolers to have the same experience that she had.
Shayla and Kiara both have plans to join Goodman staff throughout the coming year to plan next year’s trip, which they both plan to attend when they are seniors. Both young women spoke about all of the museums, colleges and fun activities in Atlanta that they didn’t get the chance to see and will be busy working to find a way to see them all next year.
When asked about what she learned from the trip, Kiara said, “You can do anything if you put your mind to it.”
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