Alternative Spring Break Week in Selma, Alabama


Gwen Brown

Gwen Brown, President

Q: How would you describe Selma?

A: "There is just something about Selma when you come and see the condition, you feel like you've come back in time. You see how it hasn't progressed; it still feels, in some ways, like it was in 1965. The lack of progress in the buildings. You go down main street and it still feels like an old southern town. When you drive on to the west side, which is primarily the white side of town, you see beautiful pristine lawns and houses. But when you take a 10 minute drive to the east side of town, you see run down houses with no water. We had a kid in the foundation that lived in a house with a dirt floor. You see that and can't help but say, 'something is wrong.'"

Ronald Smith

Ronald Smith, Pastor

Q: What has The Freedom Foundation done for Selma?

A: "There's a lot of poverty, educational issues. Different resources that other people may have available to them that aren't available here. So it's basically resources coming in to the community to help give them what they need. Some of that could just be support, some of that could just be education, some of it training, some of it financial. So a lot of different things they came here and brought. Which is so unique because their whole purpose, which is so different than any other organization I've worked with, is that they run the organization like a job where they come in and clock in at 8 and leave at 5. You see kids here from sun up to sun down, especially in the summer time, just because it is a part of their life. That's what really attracted me to the organization."

Shawn Samuelson

Shawn Samuelson, Co-Founder

Q: Why is it important that the kids be a part of RATCo.?

A: "Selma is not a good reflection of the world, or even America in some ways, because Selma has stood still and has not progressed forward. So we feel that its important to give our kids exposure to other things. We love taking them to college campuses so they can see and start to understand "I can go to college, it is a possibility." We want them to dream big. We like to tell them that anything is possible and giving them a chance to see a few of these possibilities. So some of our funding goes into planning trips for the kids. Last year, we took our kids to New York, D.C., and Illinois State University. This year, they've already been to Colorado and we're planning a trip to Gettysburg College."

Julie McGowan

Julie McGowan, Volunteer

Q: What do you see as the greatest hope for Selma?

A: "The greatest hope is with the young people. I have been around groups of white students from Morgan Academy (a private school created by the white community after schools were integrated in Selma; it accepted its first black student in 2007) that cry saying "I hate that we can't play football with our brothers down the street" (refering to the fact that Morgan Academy doesn't play any of the Selma public schools, which are predominately black). Cause what's the reality to them? They'll probably go to a college that doesn't look anything like their high school. It is like the white youth here are in a bubble and everyone misses out. You don't get to have the benefit of getting to know people that aren't just like you; that aren't of the same background as you."

Barak and Cynthia Gibson

Barak and Cynthia Gibson, Volunteers

Q: How has The Freedom Foundation personally helped you?

A:"Our daughter has only been in the country for six months. She is from Costa Rica, didn't know the English language and didn't know anybody here. When we picked her up from the airport, we took her directly to The Freedom Foundation to meet the RATCo kids before going to our house, which tells you a lot about the safety we feel here. It goes against everything they tell you in the adoption world: make it all about you immediate family for a long time then expose them to other people. But this really is a family and she comes in with a lot of the hurt that a lot of the kids face; a lot of tragedy in her past but you always see her up there dancing with the other kids and she loves it. This is a place where someone would come in from a different culture, different background, a lot of trauma in their life but ends up a being a place where they can feel safe."

Shania Black

Shania Black, RATCo Kid

Q: How has RATCo changed your life?

A: "Before I came to RATCo, I was a very closed person and didn't share much about myself. I didn't really care about anyone but myself. I started coming here 10 months ago and at first it was unreal to see something like this. Everyone is always happy and I always thought that something like that couldn't exist. It's really great that I found them because I was in a really bad place. In Selma, there is still a lot of segregation and racism that is not as loudly spoken. Schools are still segregated, not legally but by boundaries. The country club has no black members at all. They even made it where the black nannies can't come to the pool anymore. Before RATCo, I thought that that was normal but ever since I became a member, I've seen that Selma is very backwards. It gives me more drive and motivation to try harder and better myself so that I can improve the conditions in Selma and every other city that faces similar problems. 51% of Selma's youth is living below the poverty line. RATCo showed me that I can be happy all the time. I can dance, I can sing without worrying about what everyone else has to say."