Shaun King is looking forward to growing closer to the 20 students involved in his 'King's Dream' program
When he was a bright kid growing up in St. Petersburg, Florida in the 1980s and '90s, Shaun King didn't just want to learn history. He wanted to touch it.
"I always thought it would be neat if, after history classes, you could go to where the history occurred and experience it, let it really sink in," said King. "I thought about that a lot when I was in school."
That's a dream King, the third year Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback, will realize beginning this weekend, and he'll share it with 20 of today's bright young men and women of his hometown. From April 6-11, King will lead the 'King's Dream' journey through the heart of Southern America, where he and the 20 students will confront head-on the issues they have been studying all school year. An educational program ongoing since October, King's Dream culminates in this tour of important civil rights landmarks in Atlanta, Birmingham (AL) and Montgomery (AL).
The King's Dream program has shepherded the 20 students through a six-month curriculum concerning civil rights. The participants, drawn from Academy Prep Center for Education and John Hopkins Middle School, have performed research and written assignments on such topics as the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, colonialism, slavery, the Civil War, the Holocaust and current conflicts in Bosnia, Kosovo and Northern Ireland.
Even before the trip, the program has been a great success.
"They've done well," said King of the student's class work, generally held on Tuesday evenings. "The kids have been in classes since October, and they've learned a lot about different people in our country's past and about some current issues, too, and how the two go together. We've talked about how we can go out from this class and make our community a better place from what we've learned.
"We chose kids we felt were motivated to learn and to be successful. We wanted students who understood that they could use this class to springboard to better things."
Before they can make a mark in their own community, King's 'field trip' will give them an opportunity to see how others have done so in the past. King is trying to provide life lessons, similar to those imparted by Derrick Brooks on his notable trips of the past four years. He also wants them to know that he appreciates the hard work and time they have invested.
"It's a reward to them for being diligent, for being responsible and for sacrificing their Tuesday evenings to be in this class," said King. "It's showing them that I appreciate their hard work, and also that when you set a goal for yourself and work hard at it you will be rewarded."
King also expects to discover what Brooks learned on his recent student trips to Africa and Washington, D.C. – that the journey is even more valuable than the destinations. King hopes to use the five days to grow much closer to these students to whom he is offering the opportunity he dreamed of as a child.
"I think that's going to be the best part about it," he said. "Now we'll get out of the classroom setting and get to know each other better. I'll get a chance to sit down with the kids and talk about the things that are going on in their lives. And they can see how I am throughout the day, and hopefully I can help them see what it will take to accomplish their goals."
Among the sites to be visited by King and his group are the Martin Luther King, Jr. Historical District, Ebenezer Baptist Church, the Civil Rights Museum and the Rosa Parks Library and Museum. Much of this will be as new to King as it is to the students.
"I'm learning, too," said the Bucs' quarterback. "That's one of the good things about it for me. I'm getting to know everything they know. And they know a lot - you'd be surprised how bright these kids are."