Student reflects on unique summer RATCo internship

RATCo members on a Civil War tour, led by Peter Carmichael, at Gettysburg College. Photo credit: GCC&M

By Samantha Lee, Contributing Writer

During my first year at Gettysburg, I had the pleasure of seeing a show by the Random Acts of Theatre Company. Calling it memorable is by far an understatement; in one hour, those kids changed my life. While they certainly have immense amounts of talent, it’s the stories and inspiration behind the talent that truly make a RATCo show more meaningful than anything else.

RATCo gives kids a place to be themselves, no matter their race, gender, sexuality, home life, or any other factors. That night, I heard a story about a girl, Shania, who only five or so years ago was the first black person to attend the all-white elementary school in Selma. While the segregation of the city shocked me, I remember most the smile on Shania’s face as someone told her story. I came to learn that that smile and so many just like it are the direct results of RATCo.

RATCo was originally brought to Gettysburg by the Alabama Immersion Project through the Center for Public Service. Many people can attest to how wonderful Immersion Projects are, but I can only do so because that show drove me to go on the Alabama trip the next January. Those ten days taught me about the hardships faced by those who fought for the Civil Rights Movement but also of a new movement in Selma.

Selma is a city full of segregation, violence, and poverty. It is a place where you’re stared at for walking with someone of a different color, people are building a statue dedicated to the founder of the KKK, and the schools are almost completely split by color. But despite all the negativity, I never truly saw myself for the woman that I am and saw my heart for what it is until I went to Selma and met RATCo. I owe so much to two women in particular – Jarah and Gwen – because they saw what I could never see in myself and showed it to me.

With a new passion for social justice and public service and a new appreciation for the impact I have on others, our group worked hard to bring RATCo back to campus, and there have been few greater honors in my life than bringing the joy of those beautiful children to other people on this campus, the same way it was brought to me. And as I talked again to Gwen, Jarah, and a past intern Ani, I realized that I was far from finished with this amazing group. So a few months later, I stepped off a plane in Alabama as an intern ready to help with an Art Camp and a production of The Lion King in Concert.

It took less than 24 hours for me to once again feel the inspiration of RATCo. At church on my first Sunday, an eleven-year-old boy named Isaiah was called up to sing. When I heard his beautiful voice, I just started to cry. Just like the RATCo shows I’d seen, Isaiah had a story and a reason to sing, and I felt the impact of that. I later learned that only a few months ago Isaiah was unable to sing in front of others. It’s stories like Isaiah’s that demonstrate the purpose of RATCo: be free to be yourself and you can truly inspire others.

Another one of the most influential kids I met was a nine-year-old boy named Tysean. He befriended one of the younger kids at camp, helping him with crafts, walking with him, and simply bonding with him, while encouraging others to do so, as well. Several other adults and I were so proud of him. The words of encouragement Tysean was given not only touched him, but hopefully showed him the positive impact we all knew he could have on others. RATCo is helping him and many others to see the leaders they are called to be and the impact they can have.

There are hundreds of other stories I could tell about my time in Selma, but the last few days of my internship demonstrate RATCo better than anything else, when we put on our production of The Lion King. Once

again, there are fewer things I feel as honored to have been a part of. Just like every other RATCo show, the audience was visibly inspired! Everyone on that stage had a reason to sing and a story to tell. Selma needed that show; just as Simba needed to be who he was, despite his struggling, we all need to be ourselves, as we’re always saying at RATCo,. Be free, be you, and you’ll gain so much.

I dealt with that struggle throughout my weeks in Selma, for I was dealing with my own scars. But thanks to the support of several amazing women – Shawn, Tylisa, Gwen – and two of my sisters – Cherita and Cora Lee – I learned how to deal with those wounds. And eventually, thanks to the wisdom of my mentor, Amanda, and more than anything, due to the encouragement from Isaiah, I was able to use music to share my struggles and triumph with others, despite any fears or stage fright I might have had. I felt support, love, and encouragement, and when I finished singing, I felt truly free. And that’s what RATCo is really about, being the wonderful person you are. We all have different stories to share, and when you share yourself and your true story, you never know who you inspire.

It doesn’t make any sense that we all found ourselves, our family, and our home in Selma, but as the song goes, “we found love in a hopeless place,” and Selma will stay with us forever because of that. RATCo is a place where an eleven-year-old can inspire you to overcome your fears, a nine-year-old can be your best friend, being yourself is expected and finding the best you is encouraged, where no one will judge you for your past or your fears but they will challenge you to over- come them.

There are so many ways to describe what RATCo is, but for me-and so many others-they are my family. And I could never give back enough to thank them for everything they gave me, but I’ll spend the rest of my life trying.

 

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Author: Isabel Gibson Penrose

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