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Understanding the past

PRINCETON – The Owen Lovejoy Homestead in Princeton was buzzing on Saturday with foreign exchange students from Qatar, Turkey, Philippines, Kenya, Tanzania and Morocco.

About 30 students from the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program were joined with students from the Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Community Center of Rock Island who were all interested in diving into the history of slavery and to hear what the local famous abolitionist — Owen Lovejoy — was able to accomplish in his life time.

The group was led by Deb Bowen, who is a Quad Cities coordinator for the YES program and volunteer at the MLK program. She is also the creator of “A Book By Me” children’s story series. The books are written and illustrated by children and tell stories about important historical points in history. Bowen’s first series covered the Holocaust. She is now putting together a series on the civil rights movement.

While collecting stories and history about slavery, she took a tour of the Lovejoy Homestead and decided she needed to bring her students to the landmark for the exposure of American history and slavery.

“This is a lesson you can’t give in a classroom,” she said, referring to the tour.

When asked if the exchange students understood the slavery issues that once took place in America or about the civil rights movement, Bowen admitted not on a deep level but said it was a great opportunity for them to understand exactly what went on in this country.

“The kids from Africa understand the civil rights because a lot of them understand how the whites took over their country and took over the blacks,” she said.

One exchange student, Sibusiso Nhlapo, 17, of Johannesburg, South Africa, was enlightened by the tour. Nhlapo has a great interested in America’s history of slavery and civil rights movement.

“It was enlightening to know there were safe houses where slaves could run away to be safe from all the slavery,” he said. “It’s good to know that because people have somewhat of a hatred for white people knowing what they did, and not realizing that every white person was good.”

Nhlapo was able to touch on similarities and differences of slavery in American vs. Africa. While America has Martin Luther King and segregation; Africa has Nelson Mandela; they call segregation, “apartheid.”

“I think in my country, they make the mistake of saying, ‘Oh, apartheid it was this, and we can’t go forward because it happen,’” he said. “People have to realize it is over; we’re in the 21st century. We need to stop having the mentality that we are in bondage and still held captive by slavery.”

Comment on this story at www.bcrnews.com.

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