Southern Nazarene University provides numerous opportunities for cultural enlightenment and engagement for students through clubs, organizations, and even classes. The Civil Rights Bus Tour is one of the life-changing experiences that SNU students choose to be a part of every year. The tour is put on by Oklahoma City First Church of the Nazarene and is a trip through the south to experience the harshest realities of America’s history of racism and segregation while participating in close community with the others on the tour.
The Civil Rights Bus Tour is an opportunity to lean into painful scars and an invitation to heal. Many of the students that go on the trip spend the weekend unpacking unthinkable truths, and many walk away completely changed. SNU students Bethany Vierow and Jason Patalano spoke to the Echo about the impact that the Civil Rights Bus Tour had on their lives, and the eye-opening experiences they both gained as a result of getting closer to suffering and injustice.
Senior theology and ministry major, Bethany Vierow has been on the Civil Rights Bus Tour twice and describes it as an experience that “stirred” her to see the world differently. One of the most impactful moments for Bethany was during their visit to the National Civil Rights Museum.
While she walked through the museum reading stories about the atrocities that occurred in the south, she began to question herself. She said she remembered thinking, “I hope I would have been brave enough, if I had lived through the Civil Rights Movement, to stand with my brothers and sisters of color in solidarity. I hoped that I would be someone to risk everything to stand up for those who were experiencing injustice.”
This kindling of hope is exactly what the Civil Rights Bus Tour is made for, but it was Bethany’s realization that shows the true fruit of what this trip can accomplish within a person’s heart.
As Bethany pondered the question of what she would have done if she had lived through the Civil Rights movement, she walked directly into her answer. She came to a sign that said: “If you have ever wondered how you would act during the Civil Rights movement, look at the ways you are responding to the issues in the world right now.” It was that moment, that exposure to raw truth, that led Bethany right to the moment of life change that the trip is known for producing.
Jason Patalano is a freshman at SNU who went on the bus tour because he felt compelled by something deep inside of him. It wasn’t until he got into the trip that he realized why he needed to be there. Jason was at a loss for words initially, admitting that “it was hard emotionally.” It took a toll on him, leaving him with the burden of stories from the Civil Rights movement.
Jason’s story is more of a call to action. He is a politics and law major and wants to be involved with human rights. For him, this trip was a wake-up call; when he saw how horribly people were treated as they tried to go to school, it shook him. It made him realize that we as a society “should acknowledge” the tragedy and move forward together, because we still have a ways to go, on all fronts of equality.
Jason pointed out that people are held back “by pity and fear” when it comes to helping our fellow man. He touched on the point that many of the “others” in our society are demonized, and turned into monsters by hatred and fear. He added that the only way to overcome that fear is to examine the root of where that fear comes from.
The stories from the Civil Rights Bus Tour are astounding, but what is even more incredible is the change that has been set off in the hearts of the students that participated. The Civil Rights Bus Tour is available every fall break to any student who wants to go. The goal is to present the students with the brutal facts of the Civil Rights movement, giving them context for the horrors that are reflected in the pages of history books while also opening their eyes to the fact that these horrors cast a shadow over America. Injustice is not at all absent from the world we live in today but neither is hope.
(Photos by Brit Bolerjack)