NAUDL Executive Director Reflects on Urban Debate and the Civil Rights Experience

Linking the voices of the future to the experiences of our nation’s past

August 22, 2019 (Chicago) – As a beneficiary of the Civil Rights movement, I can think of few things more important than education and equity.  So, when an anonymous donor approached NAUDL about sponsoring an African-American Legacy trip to Montgomery, AL, I eagerly volunteered to plan it.  The catch for me, however, was that it had to be more than sight-seeing and museum-hopping.  This unique offering needed to be a collective experience – one that represented multiple points of view.

Moreover, I had the great privilege of planning this trip in what would mark my first week as Executive Director of NAUDL. Now at the helm of an organization committed to student empowerment through urban debate, this trip was a powerful opportunity to explore our mission in greater historic and contemporary contexts.

Our Montgomery travel group included NAUDL Alumni debaters (some recent high school graduates and some college students), NAUDL staff, and NAUDL board members who represent multiple facets of executive leadership.  We covered the spectrum, from Generation Z and Millennials to X-ers and Boomers.  Our life experiences, ethnicity and backgrounds varied, but we all expressed one mutual interest: connecting and growing from our shared time in Montgomery.

Together, we realized that objective and so much more.  We found the gift of understanding as we confronted Montgomery’s prominent role in the trafficking of slaves, our nation’s heartless acts of racial terrorism, and a new perspective on the critical role of advocacy for socially just policies and practices.

We also found understanding in our own personal stories. Together, we demonstrated that people can have different opinions, life experiences, political viewpoints, and generational ideals while respectfully engaging in open dialogue around highly-complex and pervasive issues.

Of course, the personal juxtaposition of it all that does not escape me.  The legacy of racism and social injustice persisted throughout my parents’ lives and has remained ever present in mine.  Yet, it is their childhood experiences in the Jim Crow South that absolutely inspired my commitment to academic accomplishment, as well as my personal values of equity and inclusion.

This was a life-changing experience for all who shared it — and a catalyst to refocus equity at the heart of NAUDL’s work. I am grateful that it presented itself as I embrace my new role, and I know that it will foster insight and strategy for our organization and our stakeholders — providing additional forums for conversation and reflection as we move forward to the next chapter in NAUDL’s (and the country’s) history. Together.

I hope you will join me.

Rhonda Haynes
Executive Director

To learn more about the sites the NAUDL team visited as part of our experience, visit the Equal Justice Initiative website: eji.org.

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