By Jesse Siegel, Contributing Writer
Next week, the Random Acts of Theater Company, known as RATCo, will travel from their home in Selma, Alabama, and come to Gettysburg College. They will be staying for four days, participating in extracurricular activities, attending classes, touring the town and then performing their routine of dances set to uplifting pop music in the CUB Ballroom on Friday night.
While this will be just one of the activities happening on a busy Easter weekend and many students will consider going home, RATCo’s message and meaning are important for the student body to hear.
My interaction with RATCo began over last winter break. I took my last couple weeks before school started and, with a group of fellow students, traveled to Alabama as part of the Center for Public Service’s Civil Rights Immersion trip.
Most of our trip was focused on the past. We visited the site of the first sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina; toured the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, an epicenter for the Children’s Crusade and later bombed by the KKK; walked through the Montgomery home of Martin Luther King, Jr. But in Selma, the tone changed. Here we found a town that was still racially segregated, its politics controlled by the white minority through corruption, and the city council’s major initiative focused around building a large statue to Nathan Bedford Forrest, the founder of the Klu Klux Klan.
In the middle of the overwhelmingly black projects, ironically named “The George Washington Carver Homes,” was a bust of Martin Luther King outside a church where he rallied supporters before beginning the March to Montgomery in 1965.
The words below the bust: “I Had a Dream.” The deliberate misquotation was chilling.
It was here that we met with RATCo. The program is attached to the Freedom Foundation, an organization that “cultivates the next generation,” inspiring them to attain their full potential. In Selma, this means promoting interracial youth groups to aspire beyond their limiting environment.
RATCo is made up of both the children of the Freedom Foundation members and of African American kids from the neighborhood, ranging from elementary school age to college students. Every weekend, the kids gather at a local church and practice their routines, develop new ones, and hang out together.
Slowly, this simple gesture of racial harmony and inspirational teaching is changing Selma from the roots up.
Gettysburg is not Selma, but we have our own struggles. Few students have not heard that Gettysburg College ranked last in a survey by College Board. Race-related incidents have been on the rise this year.
The push for a new chief diversity officer is part of the administration’s response to the obvious: we are a primarily white college. Being homogenous in anything can cause hostility to change. We might fear changing how Gettysburg recruits students and thereby change what Gettysburg College is.
What we need to confront is such a fear. When RATCo arrives a week from now, they will represent and promote a way forward, one that shows that change, even in the most hostile places, is possible and that racial harmony in Gettysburg can be achieved.