By: Nayirah Muhammad
It’s amazing how nervous one can get in eight minutes. The only thing that separates you from a group is a projector. You hear faint voices singing “Bring Me A Little Water, Sylvie”. While they are being enlightened, sweat begins to fill your palms and thoughts of messing up cloud your head. You begin to practice your introduction and how to speak properly. Finally, as the movie ends and the projector screen rises, all of your fears are gone. The emotions culminate of being a tour guide at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI).
Last year, I was given the opportunity to become a part of the Legacy Youth Leadership Program ( LYLP), a program at BCRI that gives teenagers in grades 9-12 the opportunity to give tours at the institute. For as long as I can remember, I have visited BCRI. During my sophomore year, my dad told me about the program, but I was unsure about joining. Little did I know, my dad had already signed me up for LYLP. I didn’t realize until two days before the deadline, when he told me that I needed to write an essay for the application. Initially, I didn’t want to be in LYLP. I was afraid to commit to another extracurricular activity. At the time, I was involved with the school musical that spring. After the orientation, however, I had fallen in love with the idea of being a tour guide.
One of last summer’s highlights was going on an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C. All twelve of the LYLP students spent a week at George Washington University’s Georgetown campus. We attended sessions at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. LYLP students were part of the 150 students who came from around the country. Of the many guest speakers in attendance, two of my favorite speakers were a Holocaust survivor and a teacher who helped begin the Arab Spring of Tunisia in 2010. My favorite memory was going to see the Washington Nationals and the New York Mets play. After the game, I met the Nationals’ star player, Bryce Harper.
When I tell people about the many adventures of being a tour guide, they’re stunned at the stories I tell. Being a young African-American female, I have the job of being a role model to my peers. I can prove to them that history can actually be a fun subject to teach and there are many productive activities that we, as teenagers, can do. Being a tour guide, I’ve gained more respect from my elders.
People always ask me why do I still give tours if I’m not being paid. If you truly love something, the reward is being able to share your gift with others. Being able to inform the public about civil rights brings me joy and peace in thought that history won’t repeat itself.