Civil Rights, Teens and a Trip to Birmingham, Alabama

In my latest column for The Globe and Mail, I share some of the key lessons learned on a trip to Birmingham, Alabama with my son Cameron, 13. It was an emotional experience but also an uplifting one. We visited the the 16th Street Baptist Church, The Civil Rights Institute and so much more. For the first time, it felt like my youngest might actually understand that it was a movement of ordinary people not the larger than life heroes that we’ve come to hear about.

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is a must-see.

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is a must-see on a visit to the city.

Here’s a snippet from the piece:

On a trip to Alabama, I showed my teen son the history of the civil rights movement

Most of the monologues that I deliver at my house start out as an attempt at conversation with my teens. I raise some issue in the news, mention a similar event from the past and within a few minutes, their glazed eyes tell me they’ve moved on to counting down the moments until they can return to their game of Fortnite.

It’s frustrating, but I get it.

I remember my own parents trapping me as I tried to tiptoe past them while they watched the evening news. Despite their insistence, I paid little attention to the major events of the day.

This, despite being only a few years removed from the American Civil Rights movement of the sixties, being alive during Muhammad Ali’s Rumble in the Jungle and being well into my teens when Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

Huge historical events were happening right before my eyes, but they felt as foreign to my life as the First World War lectures in my classroom.

Recent news events that have women’s marches, Black Lives Matter protests and a fight over the Ontario sexual-education curriculum as front-page news, feel like history revisited. But for my kids, despite the fact that these events will have a direct bearing on what they learn, how they’re treated and who they become, it’s the equivalent of being trapped to watch the evening news.

Add social-media streams that make it possible for them to avoid any news that feels un-fun, and you have a generation of teens who may be even more removed from historical lessons than I was.

If I was going to get their attention, I’d need to shake things up. So, in June, I took Cameron, my 13-year-old son, to Alabama.

Maybe, if he stepped into the places where civil-rights history was made, he’d have a greater sense of its importance. My timing couldn’t have been better. The US Civil Rights Trail was launched earlier this year and highlights more than 100 sites across 14 states that were pivotal to the movement. In Alabama alone, there are 28.

Hand on the bars of the jail cell that once held Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Birmingham.

Cameron, 13, holds the bars of the cell that once held Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Birmingham.

We start our tour in Birmingham.

To read the rest visit The Globe and Mail here.

Ready to plan your own trip to Birmingham? These sites will help

Alabama Tourism

Brand USA

Birmingham Tourism

US Civil Rights Trail

Marriott Aloft Hotel

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