Our Voices

Matthew McKenney, Civil Rights Scholarship Winner

Matthew McKenney - civil rights scholarship winner“This experience really got me thinking about education and stewardship,” said Matthew McKenney.

Matthew was one of three MCTC students who received a scholarship to take a three-week civil rights field study course during the summer of 2012. “Since that class, my plans for the future have evolved and are becoming more complex.”

Race in America: Then and Now is a six-credit field study course taught by MCTC political science instructor Lena Jones. The course is taught in partnership with the Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs (HECUA) and takes place in June each year. Students explore the philosophy, practice and historical implications of the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s and how these past struggles are inextricably linked to current struggles around race, class and inequality. The course is based at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss. and includes multi-day field trips to sites in Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana. “The class is usually quite diverse, which creates an extremely rich learning environment” said Lena Jones, instructor of the course.

“The experience really focused on group interaction and collaborative teaching,” said Matthew. Their first assignment, he recalled, required meeting one-on-one with each other person in the class and interviewing them. “That’s what first broke down our barriers.” The class didn’t shy away from challenges, said Matthew. “Talking about race and society isn’t an easy subject. It was really an immersive experience—we had heavy reading and assignment loads, heard speakers almost every day and spent the bus trips watching documentaries and historical films.”

“We had one full day off on the trip,” said Matthew. “I used it to write a paper.”

Though the civil rights movement took place a generation ago, its relevance and importance carry forward. The Race in America course illuminates this relevance. “In this time when many people feel they don’t have the power to change things, the opportunity to connect with people who were involved in one of the most significant social movements of the twentieth century and who are involved in current struggles can be a powerful experience,” said Lena.

At every location the students visited—including Birmingham, Nashville, New Orleans and Memphis—the class met with a locally-based individual who had been active in civil rights movement. One of the local liaisons Matthew met last summer was Hollis Watkins, an active member in Mississippi’s civil rights movement (pictured, right). “The same people fighting for civil rights half a century ago are fighting for the same rights now,” said Matthew. “Most of those people, those liaisons, are getting older now, but we’re still fighting against injustice.”

The course draws students from across the country. However, every year there are several MCTC students in the relatively small class. “Thanks to the generosity of the MCTC Foundation, students from MCTC can receive scholarships to attend.” said Lena.

“The experience and education was invaluable," said Matthew. "And I wouldn’t have been able to go without the civil rights scholarship.”

Published February 2013


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