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Four St. Bonaventure students reflect on memorable MLK Jr. trip to Atlanta

Apr 09, 2024

Aaliyah Foskolos (from left), Luka Galle, Sanayia Joefield and Michael Assim stand in front of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Atlanta birth home (on left), which is under restoration until 2025.For four St. Bonaventure students, experiential learning took on a whole new meaning over spring break.

Michael Assim, Aaliyah Foskolos, Luka Galle and Sanayia Joefield spent four days in Atlanta on a Martin Luther King Jr. Experience, learning far more about Black history than merely MLK’s struggle for civil rights in the 1960s.

For Foskolos, one quote she saw in a display at the APEX Museum really resonated.

“Asa Hilliard said, ‘Never let them begin our history with slavery,’” said Foskolos, a freshman Honors student who will major in interdisciplinary studies. “That museum was really cool because it showed our history before MLK and the civil rights movement, and even long before slavery, showing the history of Africa and how slavery came about.”

SBU’s Equity Institute invited students “who are passionate about equity and change” to apply for the fully funded trip. Jessica Foskolos, Equity Institute coordinator, and Alice Miller Nation, director of University Ministries, served as chaperones.

The students who made the trip — and even one who didn’t — shared their experiences at a Café Damietta reflection in March.

“I’m just a middle-class white guy from suburbia USA who only learned about MLK when it was his birthday and we got the day off,” said Conor Amendola, a sophomore media studies major who came down with a bad bout of the flu two days before the trip and couldn’t go. “I didn’t really know the struggles that people of color still face or the struggles that they went through and I really wanted to know that firsthand. I’m hoping I’ll be able to do the trip next year if they offer it.”

The trip included visits to MLK’s Birth Home Block, Ebenezer Baptist Church, APEX Museum and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.

For Joefield, a sophomore sport studies major and diver for the Bonnies, the lunch counter sit-in simulation at the Center for Civil and Human Rights left an indelible impression. Visitors can experience, audibly via headphones, the vile treatment Black college students received when they went to peacefully protest at whites-only diners in 1960.

“To hear how rude people were, saying they weren’t allowed to order there and listening to the words that were used, was very impactful,” Joefield said. “We were even told they have censored the recordings a bit because people were so offended, which I didn’t like because it was babying the situation and not presenting what actually happened.”

Assim, a junior public health major and president of SBU’s Black Student Union, admitted the trip was a “rollercoaster” of emotions. “One display at the museum you’d be angry,” he said, “and at another you’d be sad.”

Displays and stories like:

  • the stained-glass exhibit in the Civil and Human Rights Center commemorating the heinous 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, that killed four little girls.
  • the museum wall dedicated to the Freedom Riders, civil rights activists who rode interstate buses into the segregated South in 1961 and subsequent years to challenge the non-enforcement of two U.S. Supreme Court decisions on desegregating public buses.
  • and how Atlantic Ocean sharks looking for food still swim in the same patterns as the slave trade routes from centuries ago because so many people either jumped or were thrown overboard.

But more than anything, Assim was grateful for how much the trip broadened his knowledge of Black history, from Malcolm X’s role in the civil rights movement to the slew of Black inventors he wasn’t aware of, like Lonnie G. Johnson, who invented the Super Soaker water gun in 1989 and was awarded $73 million in a lawsuit after Hasbro underpaid his royalties.

“And I learned a lot more about Ghana, which is where I came from, and how important Ghana is to African history,” Assim said.

As a white woman, Luka Galle, a sophomore interdisciplinary studies major, said she wanted to take the trip to learn about “more than just MLK. I wanted to learn about Black culture and Black history.”

“If I want to be a leader someday, I better damn well be an educated one,” said Galle, who was staggered by the church bombing display as much as anything she witnessed on the trip.

“Church was their safe haven, even in the South, a place where they all felt they could believe in something together when everything was so hopeless,” Galle said. “These people who killed those girls, and who hoped to kill many more, took that safe haven away.”

Miller Nation and Jessica Foskolos were thankful the students approached the trip with a genuine desire to not only learn, but to have candid conversations about what they experienced.

“The very first night we all agreed that we would have soft hearts and open hearts and to really think the best of one another, even if something didn’t come out right or was a feeble attempt to understand,” Miller Nation said. “These students did an awesome job of that, of being open enough to speak their truth and yet ask a question.”

The trip, however, wasn’t four straight days of sobering experiences and reflections. The group enjoyed great meals, rode the SkyView Ferris wheel at Centennial Park, and on the final day visited the Georgia Aquarium, the largest in the U.S. and fourth-largest in the world.

“The whole trip, as much as there was heavy content and it was really impactful, we were able to laugh and joke with each other, really connect with one another,” Jessica Foskolos said. “The experience was a credit to the students for their willingness to trust us and to buy into what we were trying to do.”


About the University: The nation’s first Franciscan university, St. Bonaventure University is a community committed to transforming the lives of our students inside and outside the classroom, inspiring in them a lifelong commitment to service and citizenship. Out of 167 regional universities in the North, St. Bonaventure was ranked #6 for value and #14 for innovation by U.S. News and World Report (2024).