SOJOURN: A journey into the past for a better future

By Sheryl Young, San Mateo County Program Director

“How much can you change in 7 days? Quite a lot,” reflects Karen Ramroth, a social studies teacher at Carlmont High School. She attended her first Sojourn as a student in 2001, and then eight times with high school students as a teacher. “Kids come into this program one way, and come out differently.  They learn to open their eyes to where we’ve been, hear stories from people and surviving family members about non-violence, forgiveness and compassion, and come back energized with the belief that they have power.”

The Sojourn Project, founded by Jeff Steinburg, a former Bay Area history teacher in 1999, uses experiential learning to transform the lives of high school students through studying the Civil Rights Movement. The program reaches 25,000 students each year, and over 9,000 students have traveled on an immersion journey through five states in the Deep South to learn the lessons of the Movement and apply them to current human rights issues and conditions.

The journey through the Southern Civil Rights Movement program is a deep educational experience that includes an extensive reading list, writing assignments, college style lectures, high level critical thinking, and a local community project and presentation when they return.

Last year’s group traveled to the South the week after the Parkland shooting, and when the students returned, they applied their lessons of activism to modern day actions. They planned a school walk-out on March 14 and held a rally with a program with special speakers. A somber and respectful day was planned to push for change and to provide information on how to register to vote.

The powerful outcome of this journey is the creation of a lifetime community that celebrates diversity and treats people equally. This is a pivotal moment indeed for these students and springboard to helping to build healthy communities for a better future.  Jeff said it best: “Understand what real non-violence is. Real courage, real forgiveness, not being silent to injustice. Well, who better to explain that than the people in the Civil Rights Movement?”

PVF is proud to be a funder for this nationally honored living history education program in social justice and civil rights. Two trips are planned this spring, and classroom programs are being taught in elementary, middle and high school programs.  We can’t wait to hear the stories of the students on this journey.

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