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Not your typical spring break

seeking abraham
The students will spend part of their spring break restoring areas of Greenville's Brutontown Cemetery. Other Furman students have worked in the cemetery over the years to uncover gravestones.

Some students spend spring break in far-flung lands. Others seek warmer climates at nearby or distant shores. And likely most take respite in their hometowns and visit with friends and family. But some opt for something entirely different.

seeking abraham
Emilee O’Brien ’17, post-baccalaureate fellow, Social Justice and Community Engagement

In March, 11 Furman students will embark on an Alternative Spring Break orchestrated by Emilee O’Brien ‘17 and Communication Studies Professor Brandon Inabinet — “Seeking Abraham: Slavery and Public Memory.”

An offshoot of the Task Force on Slavery and Justice, the Seeking Abraham ASB explores the legacies of slavery and civil rights in Greenville and Charleston, South Carolina.

For the Greenville component, students will engage in service learning, uncovering historical markers and restoring parts of the Brutontown Cemetery, an African-American cemetery established for the indigent after the Civil War, whose hallowed ground is believed to hold former slaves.

Students on the trip will hear from desegregation historians, learn about the civil rights movement that began at the Greenville Library, and delve into current social justice issues facing the city such as memorials, gentrification and redevelopment.

The latter part of the week will take students to Charleston where they will meet with historians and community partners to examine historical legacies of slave markets, segregation and ongoing efforts aimed at racial reconciliation.

Asha Marie ’22, will participate in the Alternative Spring Break “Seeking Abraham: Slavery and Public Memory.”

Freshman Asha Marie, known for her petition and activism surrounding her local high school Wade Hampton, was naturally attracted to the opportunity. “I’m most excited about cleaning up a grave site nearby and going to City Hall to trace the lives of some of the people buried at the cemetery,” she said.

Apart from gaining new knowledge and deeper relationships with others on the trip, Marie says she wants to come back with a fresh understanding about “the complexities of how the past connects with the present and how we reckon with both the erasure and preservation of history.”

O’Brien, a politics and international affairs and poverty studies alumna, began working on the trip with Inabinet in the fall. For the trip that involves numerous community partners, she describes the effort as having “lots of moving parts,” but she is excited that it has all come together. “The best part of this experience is that the week-long program is entirely student-led,” she said.

O’Brien, who launched ASBs in 2017 as part of her post-baccalaureate fellowship for Social Justice and Community Engagement, explains that faculty members lead a deep dive into the context of the theme — social justice and service learning — but the week is fully driven by two student facilitators who conduct logistics and daily debriefings to synthesize information, talk about implications and map out action steps going forward.

The makeup of the group is, by happenstance, all female. Nine of the 11 are students of color, and the cohort represents a diverse range of majors and academic interests, including poverty studies, urban studies, African-American diaspora studies, history, religion, English, neuroscience, political science, public health, sociology and communications.

O’Brien is already looking ahead to similar programs in the years to come, saying, “The students launching this first year of the program are capable of setting the tone for future programs and crafting high impact-experiences for their peers.”

The project will be featured in conjunction with the Universities Studying Slavery meeting and the 9th Annual Lemon Project Symposium, which take place in Williamsburg, Virginia, March 14-15.

For more information about “Seeking Abraham: Slavery and Public Memory,” contact Emilee O’Brien at emilee.obrien@furman.edu.

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