Mario Lawrence felt the impact of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center in Atlanta
On January 25, 1929, American history was changed forever with the birth of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. in Atlanta, Georgia.
On June 28, 2003, the 29 traveling students who make up this year's Brooks' Bunch – young men and women who understand the difference King made in their own lives – experienced that history first-hand at the Atlanta museum dedicated to this historic American.
The impact of King's dream and his struggle for equality is expertly depicted in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center. Featuring walls of photos, stories and inspirational quotes, the MLK Center sends a powerful message to anyone that visits.
"It's more educational than what we've learned in school," said 17 year-old Rosie Odom. "In the history books you only get a paragraph. Here, you actually see the pictures and hear the speeches."
Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks is in the midst of an 11-day, four-city journey with the 29 students who qualified for his annual trip. After spending most of the first week in New York City and Chicago, the Brooks' Bunch traveled to Atlanta to continue their tour of educational and historical locations. The MLK Center was one of their most highly-anticipated stops.
A timeline of pivotal moments in the civil rights movement is represented in the museum, from King's early days in Atlanta to his time in Boston getting his PhD in systematic theology, from the Montgomery bus boycott to King's final days in Memphis. It was there that King was shot and killed on April 4, 1968, the day after delivering his watershed 'I've Been to the Mountaintop' speech.
At the King museum, the students absorbed the impact that King has had on history and their lives, viewing a film titled "New Time, New Place" and seeing the funeral wagon that pulled King's casket in his funeral procession. King's mission of nonviolent protest was also well-documented at the Center. A statue of Mahatma Gandhi, King's inspiration for this type of action, stood in front of the museum and several of King's letters and quotes about the importance of choosing a nonviolent approach over violence were placed around the Center
"Watching the funeral video made me cry," said Odom. "It made me realize how much he's done for us and where we are because of him."
In addition to visiting the MLK Center, Brooks' Bunch also visited the King's tomb and the eternal flame that symbolizes his commitment to equality that never weakened.
"I was thinking about what my Grandma went through and how hard it was," said 16-year-old Mario Lawrence. "I'm just fortunate that I don't have to go through that like they had to."
From the MLK Center, the Brooks' Bunch took a very quiet and reflective bus ride to the its next stop, the Atlanta Zoo, where they were to receive a guided tour. The somber mood was broken when the party learned that their first stop at the zoo would be at a lion feeding, a fact that launched several students and chaperones into an a cappella version of The Lion Sleeps Tonight.
If the students were expecting a feeding frenzy, they had forgotten the air of regal indifference that the king of the jungle likes to project. Sitting atop his rock mountain, the lion in question simply relaxed in the midday sun as the Brooks' Bunch and several other zoo patrons stood in front of a glass partition and waited for the feeding to begin. Even when the zookeeper tossed in a dead chicken, followed by several dead rats, there was no immediate action. Surveying his territory, the lion finally noticed his food but didn't appear to be in the mood for a snack at the moment. Finally, after a 15-minute wait, the lion descended from his perch, grabbed the chicken and devoured it whole as the crowd watched.
Having seen how one of nature's most powerful beasts feeds, the Brooks' Bunch then headed over to Zoo Atlanta's hotdog eating contest to see how their fellow humans would fare in a test of gastrointestinal fortitude.
The first contest, which was judged by the Brooks Bunchers, was a "Neat Eating" competition for children under the age of 10, with the contestants trying to be as tidy as possible. In a 'surprise' decision by the Brooks' Bunch students, all of the contestants finished in a dead tie, and each was awarded a victor's t-shirt.
The Brooks' Bunch students competed in the next challenge, a 'Mustard Squirt' contest that featured 20 scholars attempting to put mustard on three hotdogs as quickly as possible without getting any of the condiment on the bun or the plate. James Jolly won the contest, but there was some disagreement over the judges' decision.
"It was crazy," said Lawrence. "I've never seen anything like the hotdog eating contest and James Jolly shouldn't have won our contest. His victory is disputed."
Lawrence never gave a reason for his dispute, so until further notice Jolly will retain his Mustard Squirt Championship title. After the mustard had cleared from that challenge, several local competitors held a true hotdog-eating contest, with the winner devouring 16 ½ franks in 12 minutes.
Lunch mercifully followed for the Brooks' Bunch students, after which they were given time to explore the zoo and witness the behaviors of elephants, giraffes, rhinos, zebras, peacocks and gorillas.
The day closed with a special treat for the Brooks' Bunch as the group headed to the ESPN Zone to have dinner and play video games. After their meal, as they sat discussing the day's events, the students were greeted by an unexpected guest. Atlanta rapper Killa Mike had stopped by the Zone to talk with Brooks' students.
Killa Mike had a very powerful message for the Brooks' Bunch. He told the students that they were the only ones responsible for their success or failures and that they have the power to control what goes into their minds. The rapper wanted the young men and women to make their own decisions and not simply follow what other people would want them to do.
The students shot back with numerous questions about Mike's life in the music industry and what path he took to achieve his goals. The most important questions Mike answered were in regard to the glorified gangsta lifestyle portrayed by many of today's artists and what it takes to be 'hardcore'.
"Hardcore is Martin Luther King, Jr. It's John Kennedy. It's Bobby Kennedy," said the rapper. "It's having something that is so worth living for, it's worth dying for. That's hardcore."
It was an important message from a modern-day preacher and a perfect way to conclude the day's events.
Please return tomorrow to read all about the Brooks' Bunch journey to Ebenezer Baptist Church and Atlanta's Lenox Mall on Sunday.