Buckeyes get ‘goosebumps’ visiting historic sites in Alabama
Student-athletes discuss civil rights during Big Ten trip
Earlier this month, student-athletes from the Big Ten traveled to Alabama for a weekend-long trip. Part of the conference’s Big Life Series, the event took place in Selma and Montgomery, the epicenter of the civil rights movement.
The Ohio State University sent five student-athletes: Jaydan Wood (women’s track & field), Donovan Hewitt (men’s gymnastics), Brooke Shields (cheer), Nina LeFlore (women’s soccer) and Zed Key (men’s basketball).
Student-athletes heard from Sheyann Webb-Christburg, author and eyewitness to the Bloody Sunday attack in 1965, as well as Bryan Stevenson, a prominent author and social justice lawyer. They also toured the Civil Rights Memorial Center, the Alabama Department of Archives and History and the Equal Justice Initiative Legacy Museum, which Stevenson founded.
In addition, the trip included a visit to the First Baptist Church in Selma and a walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site of Bloody Sunday.
Knowing the trip’s purpose, LeFlore expected an emotional weekend. She was still surprised by just how emotional she was. Although the speakers shared painful stories, she felt inspired by their messages of hope.
“They were really joyful,” she said. “Even when they spoke about their past, and they were emotional, they were joyful, almost hopeful. You can tell that their spirit wasn’t defeated.”
For Key, the most meaningful moment of the trip was the Pettus Bridge walk.
“Walking across the bridge, just knowing what [the protesters] went through with them being beat on the bridge by the police, dogs, tear gas,” said Key. “It was such a surreal moment.”
“That was probably the most impactful,” she said. “Being there, living the history, reliving the history. It’s not really an experience you can put into words. It’s more of a feeling. I wish everyone had the opportunity to experience it.”
Key was proud to represent Ohio State and proud to represent basketball players – there were few on the trip. He feels that, as student-athletes, he and his peers have a unique opportunity to amplify the messages they received during the trip.
“As athletes, we have a platform,” he said. “We’re all on the same page about using our platform to create change because people look up to us and they listen to us. We can use our platform to push in the right direction to create equality.”
A short film will chronicle the trip and the participating student-athletes’ reactions.
“Every student-athlete will be able to see it and then we’re going to talk to the entire student-athlete staff,” she said. “We’re going to go in-depth about what we learned and how we can implement changes in the Ohio State athletics program.”
Both agreed that the trip was an honor and one in which they were proud to participate.
“This really opened my eyes,” Key said. “I learned stuff that I didn’t even know about. Listening to people, it really gave me goosebumps, some of what they were saying. I’m really glad the Big Ten invited me to go.”
For LeFlore, who has attended other Big Ten events, it was a chance to experience something different with her peers.
“I saw a more intimate side to some of the people I had met at the other events during this trip,” she said.
All five of the Ohio State student-athletes are Black, LeFlore mentioned. Bonding over their experiences as Black student-athletes made the trip that much more meaningful.
“I think it was cool coming into community like that,” she said. “I think that was really special.”
The sense of community, of shared history, has stuck with LeFlore.
“Anytime anybody shares a story, it’s impactful and empowering.”