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Expanded worldviews: Student groups from two campuses traveled to Memphis over spring break

Apr. 2, 2014

It was a first for me to become so incredibly emotionally attached to these issues. – Alan Hancock, IUPUI student

Civil Rights museum

An exhibit at the National Civil Rights Museum commemorates the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers' strike. | Photo By Bruce Anderson

This trip has taught me that it’s not just about the music, it’s about touching people’s lives and continuing the fight that was started by Civil Rights activists many years ago. – Bruce Anderson, IU Soul Revue member

Student groups from two IU campuses traveled to Memphis, Tenn., over spring break in March for separate programs with some overlapping results: participants from both groups shared life-changing experiences that impacted their world views.

Participants in “Freedom Rides: An IUPUI Social Justice Spring Break Experience” analyzed how current and past social justice movements have been affected by different leadership styles, while members of the IU Soul Revue worked with talented local youths at Stax Music Academy, an educational program that continues the tradition of the historic record label.

Freedom Rides

The IUPUI students visited community leaders, took part in community service projects, traveled to historical landmarks and museums and discussed leadership styles of past civil rights leaders compared with today’s leaders.

“Freedom Rides is an opportunity for IUPUI students to explore their own leadership philosophies by examining social justice issues through a civil rights lens,” said Amanda Bonilla, assistant director for social justice education in the IUPUI Office of Student Involvement in the Division of Student Affairs. “There is perhaps no better place to take this journey than Memphis, Tenn., where the Mississippi Delta starts and the culture has been fraught with racial inequity well before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. died there. Those issues persist today, and our students get to experience the places where historical figures took their stands, made their escapes and recorded the music that documented it all.”

IUPUI trip

Students taking part in "Freedom Rides: An IUPUI Social Justic Spring Break Experience," traveled to historical landmarks and museums including an underground railroad museum. | Photo By Amanda Bonilla

In his blog post March 20, junior Alan Hancock, a computer science major, described a historical tour that included a stop at the home of a man who helped slaves travel to freedom in the north.

“Listening to the stories of slaves, how they came to be enslaved, then how slave owners broke their spirits, I entered a place of shame and upset,” he wrote. “These are emotions I typically reserve for other moments, and I rarely experience them regardless. It was a first for me to become so incredibly emotionally attached to these issues. Of course, they have always been important, but I never connected so deeply.”

IUPUI graduate student Julia Whitted, who is studying social work, gained a new understanding of the word “privilege.”

“I currently find myself longing for more than just the superficial meaning of the word,” she wrote. “I want to know how my privileges impact my life day to day, moment to moment from decision to decision. I am beginning to understand that even the choices I have made and continue to make are developed through my privilege. Someone or some people rather had to devote the time to teach how and what decisions to make and when to make them. Other people haven't been granted that same opportunity.”

Soul Revue

On March 20 and 21, IU Soul Revue director Tyron Cooper and members of the ensemble conducted workshops with students from the Stax Music Academy; Overton High School, a city school for those interested in the creative and performing arts; LeMoyne-Owen College, a historically black institution; and the University of Memphis.

During the trip, two members of the IU Soul Revue kept notes about the trip for Inside IU: freshman journalism major Jordan Siden and Bruce Anderson IV, a sophomore secondary education major with a concentration in English.

Jordan Siden
March 19, 2014

Bleary-eyed musicians gathered at the loading dock of the Neal-Marshal Black Culture Center in the dark, early morning. Stage equipment, amplifiers and bags packed, the bus was boarded and on its way to Memphis by 7:30 a.m. Wednesday morning. We hit the highway as the sun rose and arrived in the afternoon. Our first stop in Memphis was the National Civil Rights Museum, housed in the renovated Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. The first exhibit, in the location believed to be where James Earl Ray fatally shot Dr. King with a rifle from across the street of King’s motel room, detailed the murder of the civil rights leader. The exhibit addresses that the details of Dr. King’s assassination are still uncertain and left open the idea that Earl Ray may have been framed.

MLK Jr. hotel

IU Bloomington students from the IU Soul Revue visited Lorraine Motel, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. | Photo By Jordan Siden

Next, we entered Lorraine Motel, which has been renovated to house the museum’s main exhibit. Though the museum was under renovation at the time, the Soul Revue was lucky to be given a private walk-through. We stepped around construction equipment and avoided wet paint to see the museum-in-the-making and learn about African American history and the bravery of those who participated in the Civil Rights Movement. I have learned in the Soul Revue that the consciousness of African Americans throughout history can be learned through the music of the time period. One cannot fully perform soul music accurately without understanding the historical context from which it came. The exhibit ends on the second floor, where one can peer into Room 306 through a glass window and see the balcony where the life of one of the most important freedom fighters of the 20th century was tragically taken.

We ended our tour with an impromptu, a cappella rendition of “Keep Marchin’” by Raphael Saadiq, a fitting homage to those who marched -- and continue to march -- for freedom and equality. Next on the agenda was dinner at B.B. King’s Blues Club, located in downtown Memphis’ famous Beale Street. The restaurant, owned by the King himself, features a constant rotation of live blues bands. After a welcoming Memphis dinner of pulled pork, fried chicken, corn bread, beans (and salad), the second band’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” brought almost the entire Soul Revue out onto the dance floor. We had a great time and brought the party -- and the band might not have had a clue that the people getting down with their music and having a blast were a group of musicians just like them.

Jordan Siden 
March 20, 2014
We began our first morning in Memphis at Overton High School, a creative arts magnet school. In the school’s orchestra room, the Soul Revue performed a stripped down, acoustic set of the few first tunes of our show. One student in the band program caught our attention; with his horn out and ready, and dressed in a suit and bowtie, he already looked the part of a member of the Soul Revue. He played with us over the Al Green tune “Can’t Get Next To You” and blew us all way. That was when I first realized that there is some serious young talent in this town.

We traveled next to LeMoyne-Owen College to do another workshop, where Dr. Cooper explained the educational aspect of what we do in the Soul Revue. On the small stage on which we would perform the next night, Dr. Cooper alone provided acoustic accompaniment for the same short set, along with a series of hits performed by Soul Revue soloists: Taylor on “The Way,” Troy on “A Change Is Gonna Come” and Bruce on “Try A Little Tenderness.”

With some time at the hotel, Blake Rhein (staff), Matt Babineaux (student) and I hit up the Gibson Guitar Factory and got the chance to goof off and jam on some guitars worth way more than what likely was in our combined bank accounts. Going to guitar shops is always fun, and knowing that the axes we were playing were built in the factory in the back was a cool experience.

Stax Academy

IU Soul Revue student musicians learned about Stax Music Academy, a charter school that incorporates soul music education into its curriculum. | Photo By Peyton Conners

Stax records, the legendary Memphis record label, has been converted into a museum. But, close to the original site, is the Stax Music Academy. The academy is a college preparatory charter school and after school program where about 600 students who audition are given the opportunity to learn the art of making soul music as a part of their formal education, along with the standard curriculum you’d expect at any middle or high school. There is some serious talent at this academy -- young students who can lay down some heavy funk and soul. The school was an incredible example of how the arts -- including popular music -- can serve as a central aspect of a public school education, which has unfortunately seen similar programs cut across the country to accommodate for rising attention to standardization in a climate of slashed budgets.

Seeing the Stax Museum, housed next door the original building where some of the most significant recordings of the 20th century were cut, was a terrific educational opportunity for the Soul Revue. The museum did an excellent job of explaining the history of soul music, its roots in gospel and blues and the impact of artists such as Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Isaac Hayes, Rufus, Carla Thomas and many others defined the genre. Dinner at the rib joint Charles Vergo’s Rendevous was the cherry on top of another good day in Memphis. I could get used to Southern food, especially the sweet tea.

Bruce Anderson IV
March 21, 2014

On Friday, we checked out of the hotel and boarded the bus to return to Stax Academy, where Dr. Cooper was conducting mock auditions and a workshop. While Dr. Cooper was interacting with Stax students, the vocalists warmed up in one of the empty classrooms and reviewed choreography for the show. We were all excited to be performing that night and wanted to put on the best show we possibly could. After warming up, the vocalists joined the band and the entire Soul Revue warmed up together in preparation for the evening’s performance. We left the academy at around 4:30 p.m. and headed to LeMoyne-Owen College for a sound check. After completing the sound check, both the vocalists and band members changed clothes and got ready to perform on stage at 7 p.m.

IU Soul Revue

Soul Revue members warmed up their singing voices. | Photo By Jordan Siden

We performed in front of a room full of high school and college students, as well as community members, who were literally on their feet the entire show. Each member of the Soul Revue did an awesome job. I could feel the crowd’s energy as I sang “Try a Little Tenderness.” We closed the show with a funk medley that consisted of “Good Times,” “Forget Me Nots,” “Skin Tight” and “Outstanding.” After the concert, we ate another amazing meal -- the best by far, in my opinion -- consisting of everything from fried chicken to meatballs dipped in barbecue sauce!

Overall, this was one of the greatest experiences of my life. The spirit of Memphis and resilience of this community touched me. I was moved by the music and the soul that the Memphis young people possess. In addition, I was profoundly impacted by the National Civil Rights Museum, which detailed the struggles that black people have faced over the years and still face today.

This trip has taught me that it’s not just about the music, it’s about touching people’s lives and continuing the fight started by Civil Rights activists many years ago. If I don't do my part in the fight for freedom and justice, then there will be no hope for generations to come. It is crucial that I carry on the legacy of my ancestors and never let their hard work be in vain.

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