SEARCH FOR A DIFFERENT AMERICA: Aurora students raising funds for ‘civil rights trip’ to D.C.

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AURORA | Like a lot of millennial ideas, Onyi Ozoma’s plan to take a group of Rangeview High School students to Washington, D.C. started with a tweet.

From left: Blake Stephenson, Samuel Tadesse, Dallas Johnson, Adwoa Tweneboa-Koduah, Anaya Richie and Onyi Ozoma. The group of RHS students is trying to raise $20,000 for a trip to Washigton, D.C.In September 2016, Ozoma saw former NBA star Kobe Bryant’s tweet urging people to visit the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in D.C. The NMAAHC is the first and only national museum devoted to exclusively documenting African-American history and culture.

Several months later, $20,000 is the only thing standing between Ozoma and his plan to visit the NMAAHC and a bevy of sites that explore civil rights, race and other social issues along with about a dozen peers.

“The election of (President Donald) Trump was a blow to everything that represents me,”said Adwoa Tweneboa-Koduah, a friend of Ozoma and participant in the planned trip. “I am an immigrant, I came here in 2012 from Ghana, I am an African-American woman. For me, it was like constantly being attacked by someone who was suppose to represent our country and, to a certain extent, you feel kind of weak. But on trips like these, you realize there are people who have fought for you to be here and you’re not just going to let one person take that from you.”

Stephanie Walsh, a government and politics teacher at RHS, is helping Ozoma plan the April ‘civil rights trip,’ as Ozoma called it. With lodging, museum tours, food and other expenses, the four-day visit will cost about $1,500 per student – an amount most Aurora students don’t have on hand, she said. Ozuma and his peers are trying to raise necessary funds through Snap-Raise.

But money shouldn’t be a deterrent and the insight students can glean from a trip that includes touring the NMAAHC, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian is invaluable, Walsh said.

“It gives them a deeper understanding and it makes their basic knowledge (of social injustice) so much deeper and wider, so that when they come across stuff in society, they have such a better understanding of how to deal with it and the whole perspective around it,” said Walsh, who is also an adjunct professor at the Community College of Aurora.

For Tweneboa-Koduah, the trip is about restoring hope and confidence after Trump’s election. Tweneboa-Koduah is among the roughly 550 black students at RHS, which is about 23 percent of the student population. The senior said she loves Rangeview’s diverse community but, unfortunately, Trump’s campaign rhetoric affected her and other students of color negatively.

Fellow senior Samuel Tadesse agreed with Tweneboa-Koduah’s feelings, being the son of an Ethiopian immigrant, but added it wasn’t just the election of Trump that inspired his interest in this trip.

“I may not like him but he was voted in by the Electoral College,” Tadesse said. “But it’s the way people are going about it that’s an issue. These protests are turning violent and we need to have a better way to speak about issues in a more respectful way where we can actually work together as a country and as a people rather than fight and argue.”

Ozoma also wants to see that unity come to fruition in the Aurora community and the country, which is why he wanted the trip to include visits to museums and sites that encompassed diverse races and issues. The 18-year-old said he was deeply affected by police shootings of black men last year, spurring him to seek solace in civil rights and social justice history.

“Given recent events, it feels like people are coming apart based on race differences and I wanted it to be something that wasn’t necessarily a ‘black trip’ or a trip for one group of people,” said Ozoma, who is a senior and planning to attend Stanford University in the fall. “It’s meant to be a unifying and positive experience where we can go back and learn from the marginalized groups of the past so we can take lessons on how they persevered and overcame in the past and bring it to fruition now and teach it to our community, especially those in our school.”

When the students return from D.C., they will give a presentation at RHS about what they learned. While that may seem like several steps ahead for the group that is still trying to raise funds for the trip itself, senior Blake Stephenson is thinking even further beyond that.

“I feel like what we learn here will help in the future, even more than now,” the 18-year-old said. “I do think when we go out into the world one day, we could make a bigger difference than any of us could possibly imagine. I feel like our generation has a chance to make a difference and I want to be a part of that.”