Mitzvah Corps Civil Rights Journey
Walk in the footsteps of Martin Luther King, Jr. and explore both big cities like New Orleans, Birmingham, Memphis, and Atlanta, as well as smaller communities throughout the Mississippi Delta, through the lens of social justice. Come away with the ability to articulate your own experience, and identify tangible ways that you can make a real difference in this country's civil rights narrative.
Issue Focus: Racial Justice
It’s been over 50 years since the signing of the Civil Rights Act, but racial tensions and civil inequality continue to pervade American culture, and with the added spark from campaigns on social media, the issue has never been more accessible and prevalent in our daily lives. The Deep South faces the unique challenge of not only addressing the racism of other communities, but with the added pressure of fighting to evolve from the Jim Crow South. Alongside historic and current leaders in social justice, individuals and organizations who have long fought for freedom, there also remain both subtle and overt forms of discrimination, deeply institutionalized in political, community, and personal realms.
The ongoing and active support of the Civil Rights Movement is an integral part of the collective Jewish identity. Participants on the Mitzvah Corps Civil Rights Journey will travel to communities that their peers have never heard of, hear stories of survival and resilience, and take an honest look at the complexities of racial inequality through the criminal justice system and beyond. These teens will not only follow in the footsteps of these incredible role models, but take a deeper look at contextualizing Southern history, innovative ways to combat inequality, and extrapolate these lessons to their communities back home.
In Partnership With: Institute for Southern Jewish Life
Mitzvah Corps Civil Rights Journey in the Deep South is run in partnership with the Institute for Southern Jewish Life (ISJL). The program combines the ISJL's strong network and ties to the Jewish communities in the Deep South, with Mitzvah Corps' unique educational narrative to bring history and current events to life.
Each of these stops contains a powerful social justice narrative, and the group will get to interact with people and organizations that are at the forefront of the fight for civil rights and racial equality. Through the lens of social justice, we'll explore the complex dynamics of public education, criminal justice, race relations, and more! Meet with leaders of organizations such as:
- Equal Justice Initiative, providing representation to those denied fair treatment in the legal system
- Mississippi Center for Justice, advancing racial and economic justice
- Southern Poverty Law Center, using law and education to fight hate and bigotry
- Human Rights Campaign and Project One America, advancing LGBTQ rights in the Deep South
It's important to note, however, that while this program provides 80 hours of documented community service, we use a broad definition of social justice engagement. Participants will not be actively engaging in traditional volunteer work.
Connecting With Impactful People & Stories
Throughout the program, the group will be interacting with individuals and organizations that approach these complex challenges from a variety of perspectives, and will have the opportunity to hear their stories directly:
- Those who were a part of the March from Selma to Montgomery
- Owners of Dooky Chase's Restaurant, a gathering place for civil rights leaders in New Orleans
- The personal victory of Martha Hawkins, giving rise to her restaurant in Birmingham
- Current students at Central High School in Little Rock, the first integrated high school
Culturally Rich Communities
The Deep South is a region unlike any other. From sampling local cuisines to listening to live music, at each stop along the way, the group will have the chance to immerse themselves in this incredible lifestyle:
- Live jazz at Preservation Hall in New Orleans
- A blues experience at the B.B. King Museum in the Mississippi Delta
- Minor league baseball games
- Infamous Southern fried chicken
Partnership with the Institute for Southern Jewish Life
Mitzvah Corps is proud to partner with the ISJL to provide this incredible summer experience.
The Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL) promotes Judaism and our heritage through innovative programs and shared resources. The ISJL delivers rabbinic services, an education program, and cultural events to communities seeking new solutions, or where Jewish resources are limited. The ISJL also provides historic preservation and community engagement throughout the South.
However, the story of Southern Jewish life is not merely a story of shuttering synagogues and diminishing numbers. It's also a story of growing communities, vibrant congregations, and active Jewish communities of all sizes. Thus, in 2000, the ISJL expanded their mission and became the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life. In addition to preserving historical documents and artifacts, the ISJL works to provide Judaic services and cultural programs to Jewish communities across the South. Our six departments (Community Engagement, Education, History, Museum, Programming, and Rabbinic Services) cover thirteen states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.
The ISJL is transformational, trans-denominational, and committed to serving Jewish communities of all sizes.
Below is our preliminary itinerary. We refine the schedule as we approach each summer to respond to the evolving needs, and take advantage of the most current opportunities, in the local communities.
Day 1 - Arrival into New Orleans, Louisiana
Welcome to Mitzvah Corps! People will be arriving throughout the day, greeted by your staff. This evening, we'll spend time building our Mitzvah Corps community, getting to know one another, and setting expectations for the program.
Day 3 - Natchez and Jackson, Mississippi
This morning we head to Natchez to get a taste of Mississippi, and explore the roots of what is yet to unfold. We will also get to explore one of Mississippi’s charming small towns, Longwood, and learn about the unique perspective of having Southern Jewish roots. From there, we’ll head to Jackson.
Day 4 - Jackson, Mississippi
Today will be spent delving deeper into Southern Jewry at the Institute for Southern Jewish Life (ISJL), and the role of activism and social change at the Mississippi Center for Justice.
Day 5 - Jackson, Mississippi
Today we will meet with interfaith groups who work together to advance causes that benefit all citizens of Jackson. In an effort to understand the challenges facing Jackson and other mid-sized cities in the South, we will also meet with civic leaders in the city. This evening we'll have some free time to explore the modern side of Jackson.
Day 6 - Mississippi Delta Shabbat
We're hitting the road again, traveling to Greenville to delve deeper into Southern Jewish history with a stop at Hebrew Union Congregation. Then we will head to Indianola to tour the BB King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center, before making our final stop in Greenwood for Shabbat at Ahavath Rayim.
Day 7 - Mississippi Delta
Today we'll tour the Delta with the Delta Center for Cultural Learning. We will finish the day in Sumner, MS touring the Emmett Till Interpretive Center before heading to Little Rock for the evening.
Day 8 - Little Rock, Arkansas
We’ll start the day at the Central High School Interpretive Center, learning about the first integrated school in the United States. After a visit to the Clinton Presidential Library, we'll travel to Memphis to spend the night.
Day 9 - Memphis, Tennessee
The day will begin at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, and then we'll enjoy some Memphis BBQ and get to know some of the member of Jewish Community who are making their mark on Memphis.
Day 10 - Oxford and Birmingham, Alabama
We'll head to Oxford to spend time at the William Winter Institute of Race and Racial Reconciliation, and take a tour of the University of Mississippi before driving to Birmingham. There we'll visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the 16th Street Baptist Church, site of one of the most important moments in the Civil Rights narrative.
Day 11 - Auburn and Montgomery, Alabama
We'll head to Auburn, tour Auburn University, and learn about small town synagogue life at Congregation Beth Shalom. After lunch we'll visit the Shiloh- Rosenwald School and then continue on to Montgomery for the night.
Day 12 - Montgomery and Selma, Alabama
We will start at the Southern Poverty Law Center before heading to the Rosa Parks Museum. Then we will travel to Selma, spending the day with the powerful Joanne Bland and walking across the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge.
Day 13 - New Orleans Shabbat
In the morning, we'll head back to New Orleans, We’ll tour the historic French Quarter and spend Shabbat with the New Orleans Jewish Community.
Day 14 - New Orleans, Louisiana
We will spend the day debriefing the experience where it all began and strategizing how we can use our new learning to positively impact our home communities.
Day 15 - Departure from New Orleans, Louisiana
Travel safely back home!
How do participants travel to and from the Civil Rights Journey?
The program begins and ends in New Orleans. If participants do not live within driving distance of New Orleans, they should fly in and out of Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY). Mitzvah Corps staff members will greet them on arrival day, and accompany them back to the airport on departure day. Detailed travel instructions will be provided upon registration. Travel to and from New Orleans is NOT included in the program tuition.
What if a participant needs to travel as an unaccompanied minor?
Domestic carriers have varying regulations regarding unaccompanied minors (read specific policies and fees of major domestic carriers Southwest, United, Delta, American, and JetBlue). Please refer to the protocol of the chosen airline, and notify Mitzvah Corps in advance of the program so that we can provide the contact information for the staff member who will greet the teen upon their arrival, and coordinate a smooth travel experience.
Are vaccinations required for participation on the Civil Rights Journey?
The Union for Reform Judaism requires that all camp and travel program participants, staff and faculty must be immunized. Medical exemptions are granted in rare cases; please contact us regarding any potential exemptions prior to registration. For more information, please refer to the URJ Policy Statement on Vaccine Status.
What are the physical requirements for participation on this program?
Mitzvah Corps Civil Rights Journey is an ADA compliant program. While, as with all Mitzvah Corps programs, participants are expected to be independent and not require consistent one-on-one care, this program does not have any specific physical requirements.
Will participants receive documentation of community service?
Yes! Upon completion, participants will receive documentation for 80 hours of community service. However, it is important to note that, unlike the other Mitzvah Corps programs, hands-on volunteering is not the primary component of the Civil Rights Journey. Mitzvah Corps constitutes a wide range of community engagement activities to be community service; if a participant has specific community service requirements to complete, please be in touch with our office for additional details and clarification.
What are the housing accommodations on the Civil Rights Journey?
Participants and staff will be staying either in hotels or university dormitories throughout the program. Pillows, linens, and towels will be provided at each location.
What kind of clothing should teens bring to Mitzvah Corps?
Summers in the Deep South are hot and humid, with frequent afternoon rainfall. Participants should be prepared to sit comfortably on an air-conditioned bus, spend time outdoors, and get their hands and clothing dirty. They should also pack at least one "nicer/professional" outfit that is appropriate for spending Shabbat with a local congregation. A detailed packing list will be sent to all registrants prior to the program.
Are there opportunities to do laundry during the program?
There will be opportunities to do laundry at most of the housing accommodations throughout the trip; the staff will communicate laundry options in advance of each new location. The cost of laundry is not included in tuition, and will be the responsibility of the participant to pay with cash or credit as needed.
How does Mitzvah Corps handle teens who become ill or injured?
The participants’ health and safety is our primary concern during the summer. In all instances where the health of a teen is in question, parents/guardians will be contacted.
The Mitzvah Corps staff are First Aid/AED and CPR certified, and will carry a variety of supplies and over-the-counter medications at all times; parents/guardians have the option to give permission for the staff to administer these medications while completing the health history forms.
If a teen needs medical attention beyond what can be provided by the staff, or there in event of an emergency, the group always has access to quality professional care.