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The Road to Selma

The Road to Selma

The student elective course “Road to Selma” is focused on the culture that propagated the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. The criminal justice system, specifically, is an underpinning to their understanding of the systemic influences behind the movement.

Named one of the most influential books of the decade by CNN, students read the book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson before taking a trip to Alabama and the heart of the Civil Rights Movement. Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. 

The book delves into the shift from enslavement to mass incarceration and the institutional scaffolding that supported the shift and still holds it today.

When I asked our Middle School Counselor and teacher of this course, Annie Barocas, what her impetus was in developing this student offering, she shared that it is the “systemic issues still present today and our collective lack of awareness around human rights.” She went on to share research that anti-bias and anti-racism scholar, presenter, and author, Britt Hawthorne uses, that when a child is nine-years-old, they already have such deeply founded belief systems around race that it takes a life-altering event to overcome racism.

After age 9, racial attitudes tend to stay constant, unless the child experiences a life-changing event.  

 – Frances Aboud

Our students spent four days with a local guide and driver in Selma, Birmingham, and Montgomery. The local guide, Ann Clemons, is a Civil Rights activist, voter registration volunteer, and former Rosa Parks impersonator. Ann attended the same church as Rosa, bringing it together for the students that the atrocities they studied happened in recent memory and are still happening today.

Read the first-hand account of the trip from the two faculty leads.



At ISDenver, we have a “classroom without walls” philosophy. The four corners of a brick-and-mortar classroom aren’t the pinnacle of every learning experience. We need to walk in someone’s shoes, sit with discomfort, and see the world with our own eyes, touch it with our own hands. The point, Annie said, wasn’t to tell students how they should feel or react. Rather give them opportunity and experience and let them grapple with what comes up for them.

The students are looking to continue their studies and will be diving into Black History in Colorado next term.

“X Block” is our Middle School elective program. Each term, students take two elective classes for 45 minutes a week. X Block offerings vary from wilderness trekking skills to personal finance to knitting to drum line to art studio to Civil Rights.

If you're interested in learning more about our Middle School, I'd love to connect. 

Black and brown people in the United States often are presumed dangerous and guilty when they have done nothing wrong. Our history of racial inequality has created conscious and unconscious bias that has resulted in the racial discrimination against people of color by law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Police shootings of unarmed men, women, and children, racially biased and excessive sentencing of people convicted of crimes, and abusive prison conditions make mass incarceration a dominant issue for the poor and people of color.”

- Hank Willis Thomas



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