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South Africa trip motivates Bennett students

South Africa trip motivates Bennett students

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GOTRIAD--4/9/03--JERRY WOLFORD PHOTO --Go Triad editor and writer Jeri Rowe.

It was one of those crisp-air days Tiffany Lindsay remembers so vividly from her visit to South Africa. She had just visited the Apartheid Museum, and with those images still racing through her head, she looked around for a notebook, a journal, anything.

Nothing. All she had was a book she was reading. But that was enough. Sitting in the front of the bus, she transcribed her thoughts as fast as she could in the blank pages in the back.

She had to.

“Just see the pictures of children being exploited, those black men laying down dead,” says Lindsay, a 19-year-old sophomore at Bennett College. “It really didn’t hit me until I saw it with my own eyes, just all that they had to endure. I cried, and I wrote.”

Her classmates did, too. Lindsay and six other Bennett students spent nearly three weeks this summer in South Africa as part of a trip on which they performed, wrote and toured the country.

They went to Grahamstown, a college town in South Africa, with four faculty members from Bennett College on a trip funded by the Mellon Foundation to perform at the National Arts Festival, an annual event where dozens of groups give performances.

One of those groups was made up of poets and spoken-word artists from Bennett. Selected by the college for their contributions, these seven students compiled their work from last year into a show called “Soul Rhythms/Sistahs’ Voices.”

In South Africa, Lindsay and her classmates hustled. They plastered show fliers on the windows of their van and met South Africans everywhere they went, handing them fliers and saying, “Hi, I’m from America. You want to come to our show?”

The South Africans — black and white, store cashiers and college professors — came. And they weren’t silent. They’d say a loud “Hmmmm,” or shout, in their elongated vowel way, “Less fear!” or “More fire!” as the Bennett students performed at Grahamstown’s Kinetic Hall.

The eight performances invigorated Lindsay and her classmates. But their time onstage isn’t the only memory seared into their consciousness.

It’s their visits and conversations with South Africans, those moments frozen in time when their education became emotional and their learning turned crucial. When they talk about these experiences now, the tears come quick.

“I keep asking, ‘Why, why, why?’ Why do that when all they wanted was freedom, a basic necessity?” says Jessica McClain, a 19-year-old Bennett sophomore, tears running down her cheeks. “A little boy. Thirteen. Shot in the mouth. I have a sister who’s 13, and that could’ve been her. Shot. Why do something like that? All they wanted was the freedom to learn, something I have right here.”

McClain is referring to South Africa’s ground zero day: June 16, 1976, a day when students left school in Soweto to protest the requirement to learn Afrikaans, the language of white South Africa. The police opened fire and killed Hector Peterson. He was 13.

Vallie Hogans heard about that firsthand when she visited the Hector Peterson Museum. There, Hogans met Hector’s sister, who works at the museum.

“I told her, ‘You are so strong. I couldn’t be so strong under your circumstances,’ and she just gave me this big Mama Hug,” says Hogans, a 21-year-old senior. “I couldn’t stop crying, but she told me, ‘Everything is fine. Don’t cry. His death is not in vain.’ ”

Hogans, Lindsay and McClain will join other Bennett College students this weekend at the college’s Little Theatre for “Unloosed and Unafraid: An Evening of Spoken Word.” They’ll recite some of the poems and monologues they performed in South Africa. When they do, their memories will return.

Sure, they’ll recall South Africa’s pure sapphire sky and its twinkling canopy of stars. But most of all, they’ll remember the lessons they learned — the importance of humility and knowledge as they discovered a need to change their world.

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