Immigrants And Refugees

Alianza Group Inspired by African American Museum Visit

Alianza youth listen to guide dressed as Civil War era Union soldier

They came, they saw and were transformed.

That’s how Pedro Mejias, Assistant Director for Catholic Charities Community Services, noted how 34 young people from the Bronx and Manhattan reacted to the trip they took to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. on June 20. Most were middle schoolers.

Leaving via bus at 6:30 a.m. from Washington Heights, the youth from Alianza, an agency of Catholic Charities, didn’t return to New York until after 10 p.m. A long day, it was time to coincide with the celebration of Juneteenth, the new federal holiday marking the end of slavery in the United States after the Civil War. They heard tragic yet inspiring stories of Black American history.

At the museum, participants heard about “the history of how people were forced to come to America as slaves, they saw the shackles, even those put on children,” said Pedro, a moderator for the group. He noted how students were transfixed by a presentation from a Civil War era figure, urging them to embrace their history and to progress out of slavery.

The students were also able to see the Washington Monument, the Martin Luther King Memorial and the White House during their trip.

Most of the students who made the trip were of Caribbean and Latin American background. The stories they heard about the impact of slavery in the United States caused them to reflect upon how slavery and racism has also made its impact felt on the islands of the Caribbean as well as Latin America, said Pedro. “The way they presented it was so universal. It gave you goosebumps,” he said.