New York high school students tour historic sites throughout Mississippi

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 17, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Touring sites crucial to the Civil Rights movement, working on community service projects and experiencing Southern hospitality are part of an eight-year-old experiment to expose central New York students to different cultures.

But the students &045; chosen from high schools around Syracuse &045; said their exposure to each other also embodies the spirit of the trip.

&uot;Part of the trip is like a little lab experiment in breaking down barriers in our own community,&uot; said Tom Bennett, a social studies teacher who has chaperoned the students through Mississippi for the past five years.

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The Civil Rights Connection was the brainchild of New York state Sen. Nancy Larraine Hoffmann, who was a Civil Rights worker in Mississippi in 1970.

On this year’s trip, students have visited the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn., Jackson, Tougaloo College, Port Gibson and Natchez. Later this week they will take part in a celebration honoring the late Medgar Evers.

While in Natchez, students are staying with host families and working on several service projects, including painting at the Boys & Girls Club and cleaning up at the NAPAC Museum.

And when they return to New York, they still have a few days of school left &045; as well as exams. The trip leaves little time for study.

But for Laura Minicucci, a 17-year-old from Manlius, N.Y., accepting an invitation to join the group was an honor.

&uot;As soon as I heard about it, I jumped at the chance,&uot; she said. &uot;It’s such an opportunity.&uot;

Touring museums and other sites as well as meeting the people who experienced the Civil Rights movement firsthand has helped that period become more &uot;three-dimensional&uot; for Minicucci, the high school junior said.

&uot;Also, the interaction between us as students has showed me that there’s a lot of diversity just in central New York,&uot; she said.

For Lisa Greenpope, a 17-year-old from East Syracuse, the trip offers a glimpse at what one of her future goals &045; working for the Peace Corps &045; might be like.

Greenpope said she has enjoyed touring the sites related to the Civil Rights movement.

&uot;It doesn’t really hit you until you see it,&uot; she said.

Nakia Sibley contributed to this report.