We wrapped up our 2018 Black Belt Friday Bus Trips with our biggest trip yet!

Last Friday, November 30th, we boarded a charter bus with over fifty volunteers and headed to Booker T. Washington High School in Macon County. The bus was loaded up with UAB students, faculty, and staff, a majority of whom work in the UAB School of Education (SOE), including the SOE’s Dean, Dr. Autumn Cyprès. It was Dr. Cyprès’s wish that this bus trip be a time for the SOE faculty and staff to become more familiar with GUA’s work in the Black Belt, and we were so excited to have them all join us. Our trip was a huge success, and it’ll be a long time before we come down from the excitement it inspired in all of us!

We traveled to Booker T. Washington High School in Tuskegee, AL where we spent the morning with our students not only from BTW, but were also joined by our students from Notasulga High School. Upon our arrival at BTW, we were treated to an impressive welcome! The students put on an incredible assembly for us, showing us all how much they not only love their school, but how much they love GEAR UP Alabama as well.


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The assembly started with a bang as the BTW band stormed the cafeteria and impressed us all. The cheerleaders and dance team joined the band, setting a tone of excitement and pride that continued through the rest of the day. During the assembly, we had the chance to hear from Tuskegee’s mayor, Tony Haygood, as he described the impact that GUA’s work will have on their community. We are so thankful that Mr. Haygood not only took the time to speak to us, but that he stayed for the rest of the assembly as well. After Mr. Haygood spoke, a number of students from BTW performed, leading us in their school motto, mantra, song, and more. We also heard from students, some of whom told us about how GUA is changing their lives, and others who read their own original poetry. We were also encouraged to hear from BTW principal, Brelinda Copeland Sullen, who shared her passion for the work she gets to do everyday. We were all left inspired by Ms. Sullen, whose love for her students and her school was contagious. Dr. Tonya Perry and Dr. Samantha Elliott Briggs then spoke, continuing the theme of the assembly, sharing their pride for GEAR UP Alabama and inspiring us all. They also introduced a number of our guests from UAB, and during that time, Dr. Cyprès addressed the students offering them encouragement as they finish the semester. To wrap up the program, we heard from one of our Let Us Make Man partners, Dr. Gerry White, who challenged the students to pursue their dreams, and work as hard as they can to make them a reality.

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As Dr. Gerry White spoke, he took the time to show students how important it is to be proactive in the pursuit of their goals. To drive his point home, he introduced a BTW student who was hosting the program, Traverus Thomas, to the UAB School of Engineering Dean, Dr. J. Iwan Alexander who had joined us on the trip. Traverus wants to study engineering and has dreams of doing so at UAB. Dr. White used Traverus and Dr. Alexander as an example of how, when an opportunity presents itself, you have to go for it. He also introduced our other student host, Sasha Clark to another one of our volunteers, Dr. Pam Benoit, the UAB Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs and Provost. During the mentoring activity that followed the assembly, Dr. Alexander and Traverus sat on the side and talked for the duration of the morning.



47377743 2156056078046531 5474383710826528768 oDean Alexander with Traverus Thomas during the mentoring session.

47363876 2156056138046525 2051518809998622720 oDean Cypres with another GUA student during the mentoring session


Dr. Alexander and Traverus weren’t the only ones who made the most of the mentoring activity. As the assembly ended, Dr. Briggs instructed our volunteers to join the students at the tables throughout the cafeteria. Rather than structuring what this time would look like, we gave the students the chance to simply as the volunteers any questions they had about colleges and careers. We were so encouraged to see students seeking out specific faculty and staff who specialized in different areas. The room was full of students asking intentional questions and volunteers who were offering them all the information they could. It was incredible to see, and exactly what these Black Belt Friday trips are all about.

47247277 2156056614713144 6811708352091914240 oDr. Sheronica Nelson from UAB shares her expertise with Booker T. Washington students.


After the mentoring wrapped up, the volunteers were treated to an incredible lunch in the school’s library. This was another opportunity to connect with a number of the students, specifically those from BTW who participate in an ACT prep course. While we ate, we continued to hear their stories and be inspired by their personal aspirations. After lunch, it was hard to leave BTW, and we were having to pull a handful of our volunteers away from their conversations with the students, but we then boarded the bus to head to Macon County’s Vocational School.

Macon County has an impressive career and technical education program that prepares all of their students for success after high school graduation. A vital part of this program is the Macon County Vocational School, a site where every Macon County student will visit throughout their matriculation through the school system. This site is designed to give students experience in a number of fields, ranging from medicine to auto repair and sound engineering. We were given the opportunity to visit this site and be shown around by Macon County Superintendent of Education, Dr. Jacqueline Brooks. It is Dr. Brooks’s hope that the vocational school will help students have a better grasp on what career they want to pursue upon graduation, and from what we saw, the facilities are more than capable of preparing them for a number of fields!

When we left the vocational school, we traveled to the neighboring town of Notasulga to visit the Shiloh Rosenwald School. The Rosenwald School is a historic site in Macon County, build as a joint effort between Booker T Washington and Julius Rosenwald, who was the CEO of Sears & Roebucks. Together they opened over 5,000 schools across the country, but the Shiloh Rosenwald School was one of the first. The school was also a pick up site for the infamous syphilis study, making the Shiloh Rosenwald School a site of both the best and worst parts of our history. During our visit to the school, we were able to look around the recently restored building and hear from a number of former Shiloh Rosenwald School students. It was an incredible experience for all of us, reminding us of our state’s heavy history and why the work of GEAR UP Alabama matters so much.

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We boarded the bus to return to UAB encouraged by all the day had held. This Black Belt Friday trip was unlike any of our others, and we are so thankful not only to all of our volunteers, but to those in Macon County who made us feel so welcome. It was an incredible way to wrap up our semester, and we can’t wait to board the bus again in January to head to Butler County!

47367140 2156058098046329 5476888926595579904 oOur INCREDIBLE volunteers at the Shiloh Rosenwald School!