Visiting South African teens find similarities between US
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Racism, gang violence and restricted women’s rights were among the list of similarities that teenage members of BRAVE, a South Africa-based organization visiting Montgomery, noticed between their country and the American South.
“I’ve seen a lot of similarities, I feel like our histories are the same,” said Audrey February, 19, of the Cape Town township Manenberg, which she said is riddled with gang violence at such a high rate that “no one is safe from it.”
On her second day in Montgomery, she and 14 other BRAVE members, five from the United States and nine from South Africa, visited the Civil Rights Memorial Center — part of a 10-day trip to learn about the Civil Rights Movement, the role women played in it and the current state of America’s battle with racism.
Having already visited sites in Nashville as well as EJI’s Legacy Museum and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, February said the trip has given her a glimpse into the nation’s past clashes with the glamorous side she and other South Africans see on TV.
This, she said, has allowed her, “to see that it’s not just us going through certain things — it’s the same for people in America as well.”
Founded in 2010 by Nashville native India Baird, BRAVE’s mission is to “empower, inspire and invest in girl leaders.” Baird recalls being a 17-year-old at Ole Miss when riots erupted after the university’s first black cheerleader, John Hawkins, refused to carry the Confederate flag during football games. She wasn’t sure how to react when she found her white roommate on the rioting side against Hawkins and the campus’ black students, so she joined activists in the fight against racism.
That same year, in 1982, apartheid was “in some of its darkest hours,” Baird said, and after finishing law school she had the opportunity to visit South Africa in 1991 to assist in writing the country’s constitution. Since, she’s helped to release 4,000 children from adult prisons, set up more than 50 rape centers throughout the country, and create BRAVE — which has served over 600 young girls.
The goal, which started out as a three-month project to inform women of their rights — in country where an estimated one in five women is a victim of rape — evolved into helping young girls make it through school and expand their view of the world.
Through travel and adventure, Baird said the organization tries “to expose them to women from all walks of life, to give them as many options as possible, to say you can be leaders in all of these areas.”
Aside from the exposure to new things, BRAVE also trains the teenage girls as journalists in order to improve their writing skills, give them a voice and raise awareness of the issues they face. They are given a weekly column spot in the Cape Times, which February used as a way to say “enough is enough,” to the gang violence she and the other girls face daily.
During their visit to the Civil Rights Memorial Center, SPLC’s senior editor and writer Brad Bennett told the young girls about his experience as a journalist, advising them on the importance journalists have in exposing the mistreatment of people.
After his speech, they continued their tour through the center, finding a quote made in their country on one of its walls.
“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation,” Robert Kennedy said in Cape Town in 1966.
Ameera Allie, who has been a member of BRAVE for three years, said the organization has given her the opportunity to see the beautiful parts of her city and country — parts that had been blocked off to her because of her family’s financial situation.
Leaving her country for the first time and coming to the United States has been surreal, she said.
The travel with BRAVE has allowed her to see the struggles females all over are facing and to know “we are not the only ones.”
“As a female in Cape Town, South Africa, I always feel targeted, I always feel watched. Especially as a young girl, walking in the city . it’s something that is a constant thing, knowing you have to watch your back, you do it unknowingly,” Allie said.
The next stops for the group the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma; a visit with Gee’s Bend quilt makers in Boykin; meeting with student activists at Ole Miss; the Emmett Till Interpretive Center and the Sumner Courthouse. They will conclude the trip in New York by meeting with Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations.
One hope for that meeting, Baird said, is that it will lead to a meeting with the new South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa.
In a country with “little support for young women,” Baird said she hopes he will meet with girls and let them know as a country, “we value you.”
Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com