TUCSON, Ariz. – Arizona Track and Field Sophomore Diego Marquez wrote a journal entry about the experience of a lifetime. Both Marquez and teammate Morgan Rhett represented Arizona and the Pac-12 with members of the Big 10, and ACC coming together to create an experience that would take student-athletes through an important part of black history.Marquez: “I was provided with a raw, unfiltered perspective of racism and inequality toward African Americans. There were two athletes chosen from each Pac-12 school. My teammate who was selected for the trip was suddenly unable to go 2 days before the trip, and my other teammate who was attending, Morgan, called me and asked if I would like to take his place. I was thrilled to be able to attend a Pac-12 event. I knew the general idea of what the trip would entail, but because I was thrown in with such short notice, I had no idea just how important this trip would be to me. I attended this event with Thomas Harris, the Associate Athletic Director for Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Arizona, and Morgan Rhett, my teammate on the Arizona track and field team.
I wrote about this experience to allow others to be able to understand all we were able to experience on this trip, and maybe by the end, you will be able to see why I left Alabama a different person than I had been when I arrived.
Morgan Rhett, Diego Marquez to represent University of Arizona in Alabama for Pac-12 Social Justice Experience July 15-17
— Arizona Track & Field/Cross Country (@ArizonaTrack) July 13, 2022
PAC-12 Social Justice Experience – My Journal
After the trip got off to a very rough start with multiple flights being delayed and canceled, we finally got a flight out at 1:20 p.m., which made us miss the whole first day. After the trouble getting on our way, we were debating if we should even go because we didn’t want to drive to the airport for the 3rd time. But it would have been a mistake to miss out on what was left of this opportunity.
We eventually arrived at our hotel at about 1 am, and when we walked in the door, the advisor from Michigan said, “Y’all missed all the festivities!” Thomas and I laughed about that because we joked it made us feel so good about being late. We all ended up with about 4 hours of sleep, and the 6 am alarm hurt the next morning. We got to breakfast downstairs at 7 am, and it was super cool because everyone was wearing shirts for their conference. We were surrounded by Big 10, ACC, and Pac-12 athletes. For breakfast, we had fruit, and egg quiche, and I put some Louisiana hot sauce on my eggs. We sat with one of Morgan’s childhood friends from Pitt, and some women’s basketball players from Wisconsin.
We then started heading to the bus at 8 am, and in the area leading to the bus, there were bins and bins of snacks, and coolers filled with delicious drinks. We were really spoiled! We had an hour and a half car ride to the First Baptist Church in Selma. It was surreal because MLK gave many speeches there. The mayor of Selma told us his story and thanked us profusely for visiting. He lived through the events in Selma and was the city’s first black mayor. He helped me realize how recent these events were. Selma is ground zero for the Civil Rights Movement.
— Arizona Track & Field/Cross Country (@ArizonaTrack) July 16, 2022
The last battle of the civil war was fought there 100 years before the Bloody March of Selma. He said it takes at least 100 years to fully heal from events like that. It has only been about 60. It is easy to see why inequality is still present in our society because it takes time to heal and change, and it simply hasn’t been that long. It just happened.
Then, Lydia Blackmon Lowry spoke to us. Lydia opened by telling us she had been jailed nine times by the age of 15. But she was not ashamed because she didn’t hurt anyone, nor take anything from anyone. All she did was fight for what she believed in. She was a part of the Bloody March.
Lowry detailed the story, when she was on her knees on the bridge, but was being grabbed from behind and pulled. Their hands ended up on her face, and she bit the person’s finger. This person ended up being a sheriff. She then said that she started running into a cloud of smoke, and the next thing she knew she woke up being wheeled into a hearse. She was then chosen as one of the 300 people who could cross the bridge at the next march, and she was the youngest at 15.
After that Lowry told us in November 2020, she was doing an interview for Black Lives Matter, and they asked her if she would like to see archived videos of the Bloody March. They had a video of her. She told us she watched as the sheriff hit her from behind, knocking her on the ground, and then kicked her so hard she came off the ground. The other police officer then helped him beat her defenseless body, hitting her in the head, etc. She went her whole life not knowing what had happened to her that day, and it reopened this old wound for her. Lowry is still trying to unpack the emotions she had to this day.
As Lydia Blackmon Lowry told this story, she began crying, which almost made me start crying with her. But she told us she is unashamed of the tears she wept. After her powerful speech, we began the walk over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Fun fact that Thomas told us: The bridge is named after a man who was in the KKK. It was incredibly powerful to make the same walk as they did. We were saying how it was so hot and sweaty, and we weren’t wearing full suits and dresses. They were so strong. After the walk, we had lunch on the bus and went to the Civil Rights Memorial Center Tour. This museum was about respecting and acknowledging the many martyrs in the black community who were brutally murdered for the cause. This is when I began to realize I had no idea the scale of the black people murdered, and it made me angry. But later I would fully understand. We were able to put our names on the wall to promise we would fight for equality and justice in our own lives. We then went to the Alabama Department of Archives and History Museum and saw many artifacts from Alabama’s history.
What an incredible trip!
Thank you to all those who took part in this transformative experience in Selma and Montgomery, Alabama.#Pac12imPACt
— Pac-12 Conference (@pac12) July 17, 2022
The most significant part of this museum for me was a replica of a city after Jim Crow Laws. Black people were legally equal but were far from it. This city was split in half by a railroad, and there was a clear difference between the two sides. The difference was generational wealth. Because black Americans were held back by slavery, they had to build their lives from the ground up while the majority of white families had money. On the white side of town, there was a nice schoolhouse. The black side did not have a separate building for the school, they were taught in the church. They had one pastor who would teach grades 5-7, and these kids would then teach the younger grades of 1-4. This shows the unequal education which was present due to black people being held back for so many generations.
Later in the evening, we went to dinner at the Equal Justice Initiative Museum. They brought out trays and trays of Southern soul food. I ate the best mac & cheese I had ever had. Morgan and I sat with the athletes and advisors from CU Boulder. We then went into the museum for two hours. It began with an exhibit on the Atlantic Slave Trade. The Equal Justice Initiative Museum detailed the terrible conditions and the scale of this trade. The part that impacted me the most was a room I walked through which replicated the ocean floor. The walls were blue and glistening like the sea, and the floor was sand on either side. There were statues of heads scattered around the sea floor. I could tell they were African by their facial structures, which were incredibly detailed. They symbolized the millions of Africans thrown overboard and forgotten about at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
Then, we came to a room that was filled with jail cells. When you walked up to a cell, a hologram of a captured African would speak to you. They said things like why I am here and sang songs about how they would rather be dead. It was incredibly sad. These cells represented the warehouses these people would be trapped in during the slave trade when they were still being put up for auction. This part detailed how African families would be pulled apart like it was nothing because they weren’t viewed as human. Brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers were terrified because they knew any moment might be the last time, they saw their family. The next exhibit was about the time during slavery, and there were countless horror stories of the slaves being treated so terribly. Like how they were hung just high enough so only their toes would be touching the ground, and they were whipped until their back was a pool of blood. Just about anything they did they were beaten for. Fathers had to watch their children and wives be abused and beaten.
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46 Pac-12 student-athletes, coaches, administrators and conference staff are set to travel to Alabama on July 15-17 for a transformational and educational experience focused on social justice. https://t.co/eb8FdToio0
— Pac-12 Conference (@pac12) July 13, 2022
The most impactful exhibit in the museum was about the lynching of African Americans. This was after slavery and Jim Crow Laws when white people were fighting against equality. This exhibit featured a double-sided wall, and both sides were filled with jars of dirt and soil. I did not understand it until I got close, and each jar had a name and a location. These jars were dirt from locations of lynching. Behind the wall was another wall that I had to fight back tears to read. The wall was filled with stories of these black people who were lynched. Mobs of white people would brutally kill these black people for no reason. I was horrified by these stories. Five black men were in court for a hearing when a white mob stormed the courthouse and hung them from the top floor for the whole city to see. A black man was lynched and shot 300 times for allegedly talking back to a white man.
If a black man was accused of anything, they were lynched, their wife was lynched, and their children were lynched. Two black men were forced to dig holes and began to be buried alive before they were lynched. Mobs of white people would capture innocent black men and publicly lynch them, and the whole mob of people would take turns hitting or shooting their dead bodies. An innocent black man was lynched because a mob couldn’t find the black man they were looking for to lynch. A black man was lynched for having consensual relations with a white woman. Black men beat to death by mobs skinned to death, and set on fire, and the mobs extinguished the fire multiple times to make it a longer and more painful death. Black men who were innocent. This was terrifying to me. These white men were not faced with consequences, so they did whatever they wanted with no punishment. Absolutely disgusting and horrifying actions, only because they did not want to live with black people or be considered equal. It really upset me that I had never ever heard of just how horrifying the people were at the time, and how gruesome the acts they committed were. Why was this not common knowledge to me?
There were around 4,000 black people lynched at the time, and I had heard of none. So much is swept under the rug, and I wish I had known this my whole life. The next exhibit was then about how black people were mass incarcerated following slavery. The most impactful piece I heard from this exhibit was: “It’s not a coincidence that the states with the highest number of lynchings are the same states with the highest number of electric chair executions”. The museum ended in a beautiful room with a golden ceiling, music, and walls filled with black people who fought for equality. To wrap up the night we heard a talk from a man who inspired us to be brave and fight for what we believe in. Change starts with us. We are role models, and the way to make change is to be proximate. Put ourselves in positions where we can make an impact. To end the night, there was pizza, wings, snacks, and drinks, and we hung out in a lounge with an Xbox, PS5, Air hockey table, and sound system. I hung out with Ian, a 400m runner from Colorado Boulder, Kendall, a soccer player at NC State, and Chase, a soccer player at Wake Forest. I felt a special connection with the many athletes around me, as we had all gone through the same emotional experience. We spent the night laughing, playing 2K, and enjoying our time with each other.My Reflection
This trip was an absolutely fantastic experience. I learned so much important information and met so many spectacular people in 24 hours. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to take part in this historical trip. There is so much information about the civil rights movement which is swept under the rug. One important realization I made is how recent all of this was in the grand scheme of things. This started to help me realize why racism is still so present in our society, our institutions, and our everyday lives. It takes lots of time, work, healing, and unity to get past such a terrible but significant part of our history. I grew up in a wealthy part of town, and I was ignorant of racism for the majority of my life. I did not see many black people, nor did I see much racism, so I did not pay attention to it. And I think it is important to acknowledge that now. I am upset that I was so unaware of this dark part of history, and I am upset at the surface-level teaching I got about black history in school.
I understand that some of this content is hard to teach children, but it is essential to understanding our society, and a shock like that may be good for young adults. It certainly was a shock for the black children who had to witness these atrocities with their own eyes. Black history is presented to us with a sugarcoat, and I am grateful for this trip because it gave me perspective.
Everyone has a different perspective of the world based on their experiences and childhood, and I was never given the perspective to quite understand the full scope of racism in this country.”