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Students to Depart for Civil Rights Tour
January 9, 2006

A busload of almost 50 students from both Calvin College and area high schools will spend three days in the historical milieu of the Civil Rights movement during Faith in Action: A National Student Conference, to be held January 12–15 at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama.

The trip will include students from Calvin's Service-Learning Center student staff, Multicultural Student Advisory Board (MSAB), a Calvin Interim class studying the rhetoric of the Civil Rights movement and high school-age leaders from local churches such as Messiah Missionary Baptist Church and Neland Avenue Christian Reformed Church.

The group will visit several key sites in Civil Rights history, among them Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma and the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery.

"It will be a racially mixed group of young people who could come together and forge some kind of cross-cultural communication and start to break down this barrier that exists between us," says Jacqueline Rhodes, Calvin's assistant dean of multicultural student development and one of the trip's organizers.

Also, several of the college students will present original research during the four-day event.

Calvin senior Paul Vliem will share his findings from a McGregor-funded project that studied the views of the 4th-century church fathers on social justice. Junior Nathan Tonlaar will present solutions for infant mortality rates in Kent County, Michigan that are three times higher for black babies than for white. And seniors Dieter Bouma, Rachel Meyer, Brittney Stelpstra and Janelle Vandergrift, as well as junior Ryan Kruis, will share Calvin's efforts to promote diversity and to connect to a broader community.

"The Calvin students who are presenting will be in front of a national conference that allows college students in America to talk about faith in action," says Jeff Bouman, director of Calvin's Service-Learning Center who will also be making the trip.

Bouman believes the conference will motivate the students in several ways.

"I hope that exposure to the geography of the civil rights movement might spark these students in vocational movement toward activism," he says. "And I hope that there are relationships built between Calvin students and local high school youth and between the high school youth amongst each other."

For Rhodes the relationships are the key component of the trip.

"I attend Messiah Missionary Baptist Church, and right up the block from us is First CRC," Rhodes says. "Nearby are Neland CRC, Eastern Avenue CRC and Oakdale CRC and Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church. There are tons of churches right there. I thought maybe if I got some of the high school kids together, we could start building some collaboration."

The trip to Faith in Action replaces the on-campus young leaders retreat that Calvin traditionally hosts to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and indeed the student group will return from Birmingham just in time for Calvin's MLK Day celebration.

A whole slate of campus events is planned for the day, including a lecture by Calvin professor Randal M. Jelks, titled "African Americans in the Furniture City." The lecture, based on Jelk's soon-to-be-released book is part of Calvin's acclaimed January Series. Calvin will also honor MLK Day with a symbolic march, dramatic readings and participation in the city-wide celebration.

~written by media relations staff writer Myrna Anderson