Each fall, AYA’s 7th and 8th grade students are provided the opportunity to embark on a week-long overnight trip to a new state in the southeast! On this trip, students are exposed to a variety of schools ranging from large public universities to small private colleges, and also visit and study historical civil rights sites.

Follow along as students blog their experiences and report each day’s adventure!

Day 1 – October 30, 2023

Student Post: Tallulah Falls and Rabun Gap

Writers: Aiden Zellars (7th), Marlei Jackson (8th), Jayla Ward (8th)

The Civil Rights and College Tour is an advantage to our 7th and 8th graders next step. Today we left AYA with prayers over us and great goodbyes from our students, faculty and staff. We arrived at Tallulah Falls where we were greeted by our class of 2023 AYA Alumnus, Gabrielle Heard and Matthew Calhoun!  After being greeted we sat in the theater were we had a Q&A with Mr. Anthony Cox, the Dean of Enrollment. We met the President of Tallulah Falls, Dr. Larry Peevy. He talked to us about Tallulah Falls strong academic program and that there are students from 31 different countries. They also showed us the Natatorium also known as TFS swimming area, where games or even swim days are hosted. One of many thing Tallulah Falls taught us was that they run all their electricity off of hydro-electricity, which is when water is the control of electricity. Lastly we got the chance to visit the dorms. Some students gained a better understanding of being a boarding school student and will consider applying! Our next stop was Rabun Gap, where we also had the chance to meet their President, Mr. Jeff Miles. We began our tour were we met one of Rabun Gap’s most famous alumnae, Kimmie Gee, who was once one of the back up dancers for Beyonce. She now works at Rabun Gap as a Dance teacher, how amazing is that! Something that also stood out was a courtyard with plenty of different flags which represented where some students are from. As well as getting the chance to visit the dorms to get a glance of what it would like as a boarding student. The hills at Tallulah Falls and Rabun Gap certainly keep students in shape!! We were grateful for our time at these boarding schools. Some of the 8th graders have added these schools to their list of schools of interest.

Student Post: University of Clemson and Springfield Baptist Church

Writers: Raegan Howard (8th), Tristan Patterson (8th), Kaidan Wright (7th)

Following our tours of Tallulah Falls and Rabun Gap we enjoyed a delicious Chick-fil-a lunch on the way to the University of Clemson. We arrived at University of  Clemson around 3:15pm. The campus of University of Clemson was  huge with a lot of students walking around. While walking around the campus we saw a lot of different buildings including the medical lab which had a unique space where AI generated robots could act as humans. Medical students use the lab to simulate medical procedures. We also visited the Clemson library, which is  six stories the lowest floor being the quietest and highest floor being the loudest. Even though 7th and 8th grade were separated, the 7th grader tour guide, Ms. Ashley, was the first African American student body President at the University of Clemson. We finished our tour at Howard’s Rock at the entrance of Clemson’s football stadium. It was a very warm day and a lot of walking but overall a fun experience of the University of Clemson.  Something 8th grade learned as a whole is that you can do anything even if you are different or if you’re the minorities. Our next stop was Springfield Baptist Church (SBC) which is the only registered African American historical sites in Greenville , South Carolina. When we arrived we were greeted by the Senior Pastor of SBC, Vinson Royal, who just celebrated his one year pastoral anniversary. We learned a lot about the church and its role in making change for African Americans in Greenville. We learned that the church marched all the way to the airport when Jackie Robinson wasn’t allowed into a waiting area at airport. We  learned that the church was burned down in 1971 and was later rebuilt in 1976 at its current location. Pastor Royal reminded us that African Americans were not allowed  to worship with white Americans on the floor of the church but had to sit in the balcony. This injustice led to the construction of SBC. Pastor Royal was personable and funny. He got to know us and prayed for our week in South Carolina.  After praying we left for our hotel. WE WERE EXHAUSTED. We perked up when we saw the hotel prepared an ice cream party for us, how nice!!  Our night ended with a pizza dinner and debrief about our day. Overall, day one in South Carolina was fun but tiring , I would say a 8/10. Tomorrow we visit Furman and then leave Greenville for Greenwood, SC.

Day 2 – October 31, 2023

Student Post: Furman & Benjamin E. Mays House Museum

Writers: Maclen Jackson (7th), Amari Zellars (8th), Jeremiah Thomas (8th)

Today we had an EARLY start, waking up at 6:00 am so we could be ready to leave by 7:15 am. We were so sleepy but we all made it to the hotel lobby on time!  Our first stop was Furman University, which is the school home to Hope Cook, the daughter of our school’s Development Director, Lyn Cook. Hope joined us for breakfast and talked to us about being a student at Furman. She also took time to get to know us.  After eating breakfast we started our tour learning about the history, academics, and student life. We learned about Joseph Allen Vaughn (class of 1968) who was the first African-American student to integrate Furman. We learned about John E. Johns, former Furman President, who was responsible for Furman University’s chant, “FU (Furman U) Once, FU twice, FU all the time!” Mr. Jones discreetly told us to not repeat the chant off campus. Many of us learned that Furman offers some of the academic majors we would be interested in studying. Furman has a small and scenic campus, that includes multiple reflection pools. One school tradition is that all the seniors jump and swim in one of the reflection pools  on the last day of school. We enjoyed our time at Furman, Paladins! Next, we traveled to Greenwood, SC to visit the home of Dr. Benjamin E. Mays. Our tour guide, Mr. Christopher Thomas was very welcoming and eager to tell the childhood story of Dr. Mays. We had plenty of questions about the furniture and kitchen items in his home, like the “icebox” which is what we only know as a refrigerator. We learned that Dr. Mays liked watching birds because their flight symbolized freedom. Dr. Mays’s parents were slaves who eventually gained their freedom. The only way they could earn money was through their farm which included picking cotton. Dr. Mays was the youngest of 8 children and had to help on the farm. He often competed with his brother on who could gather the most cotton. It is hard to understand that this was the lifestyle of African Americans at that time. We learned that when cotton is removed from the stem it exposes the thorn and seed. Our tour guide explained that slaves would have been rushed to do this resulting in very grueling and painful work. Next, we went into the school that Benjamin attended. Dr. Mays’s mom couldn’t read or write and that made education important to him. Early on Dr. Mays would struggle in school but would go on to become class Valedictorian, getting a Doctorate degree, and becoming the President of Morehouse College!! Dr. Mays is an icon and we recommend everyone go to Greenwood, SC to visit his home!

Student Post: University of South Carolina and Dinner @ Grill Marks Burger & Shakes

Writers: Junub Duor (7th), Janelle Smith (7th), Na’Karri Robinson (8th)

We left Greenwood, SC to head to Columbia, SC to visit the University of South Carolina. The University of South Carolina (USC), was founded in 1801. We were greeted by Mr. Michael Wade, Assoc. Director for Diversity, Access, and Inclusion. He shared about the efforts USC has made to integrate. We learned about Richard T. Greener, a Harvard Grad and the first African-American professor at USC. Our tour was led by Mr. Sterling an alumnus of USC, along with two current students. Our two tour guides were the first people in their families to attend college and were involved on campus as student leaders. They both shared that they loved USC because of the family-oriented environment. We saw many parts of campus including dorms, the student center, the library, and the leadership and service center. We took a group picture with the game cocky. Then we walked on Green Street, a street that connects to downtown, right in front of Green Street is the Russell building which includes a student study center, open computers, a library, and many more. After that, we circled a painting of the mascot of the game cocky on Green Street. When they have their homecoming they dance around the game cocky. Next, we went to a meeting room called the SEC room. USC was a big campus with tons of walking and this was our chance to take a break. Sterling shared with us about some of the sports and clubs we could participate in while at USC. He said there are over 175 programs and 600 organizations that we can participate in. We asked him what makes USC special from the other schools and he responded, “YOU!”. He said that things that make us special are what makes the school special. It made us think about what we do to make AYA special. This visit was special because our tour guides were engaging and took the time to ask us what we wanted to do in college and how it could be done at USC. After that, we went to the hotel to prepare for our costume celebration and dinner. Our friends had cool and funny costumes. We had dinner at Grill Marks Burgers and Shakes! It was great! The milkshakes were HUGE! We had a great time bonding and laughing with our teachers. After dinner, we returned to the hotel to play a few games and have a costume contest. This was a fun ending to a long day. Tomorrow morning we start our day at Claflin University.

Day 3 – November 1, 2023

Student Post: Claflin University

Writers: Khloe Dotson (7th), Samiyah Smith (7th), and Tyrell Durden (8th)

Thank God for a later start, lol! At 9:00 am we departed from Columbia to Orangeburg, South Carolina.  Our first stop was Claflin University. Our tour guides were full of energy despite the cool breeze and temperatures outside. We learned some of the history of Claflin University. Claflin was founded on March 4, 1869, as the first HBCU to be established in South Carolina. We learned that Claflin University is named after Lee Claflin. We learned that without Claflin there would be no South Carolina State University. Claflin University is the #1 alumni-giving HBCU in the nation. Once we started the tour the 7th and 8th graders separated, the 8th grade started at the Development of Dramatic Literature Department and the 7th graders started at the James and Dorothy Z. Elmore Chapel. Inside the Dramatic Literature Department, we learned about Claflin’s’ theatre classes. We visited the auditorium where they host homecoming performances and other showcases. We visited their school Chapel, freshman dorms, and student support buildings. We learned that the majority of the buildings and dorms are named after alumni, that had a chance to give back to Claflin. Then we started to move towards the Author Rose Museum were their bookstore was located, and it is also their art building.  One thing that we took away from this tour was the tour guide explaining the importance of college and how you select one. He explained that it is easy to look at schools for the social part but he encouraged us to look for a college that sets up a bright pathway to the things that we want to do in the future. He loves his HBCU but he wanted us to go and choose the right fit. Our time was great at Claflin but lunch time was close, and Mr. Jones said Wednesdays at HBCUs are fried chicken Wednesdays, so we were ready to eat!! 

Student Post: South Carolina State University & Dinner @ Page’s Okra Grill

Writers: Radriannah Holloway (8th), Shakina Powell (8th), Kaliyah Smith (8th)

After leaving Claflin University, we had lunch at South Carolina State University, the only public Historically Black College & University. While we were there, it was fried chicken Wednesday, so for our lunch we had juicy fried chicken and scrumptious macaroni and cheese. To continue our visit at SCSU we took a tour around campus. During our tour we were able to see the memorial site for the three young African-American men who were murdered during a protest that would become known as the Orangeburg massacre; Samuel Hammond, Delano Middleton, and  Henry Smith. We also visited the speech pathology building and met two professors. South Carolina State University is the only school in South Carolina to have a speech pathology program, and they are the only school that offers nuclear engineering. They are also known for having the most football players drafted to the NFL. At the end of the tour, we went to the bookstore where we were able to purchase SCSU merch. Next, we boarded the bus and made our way to our hotel in Charleston, SC. Unfortunately, we missed visiting the Old Slave Mart Museum because of our SCSU tour. We gathered at  6:50 p.m. to head to Page’s Okra Grill. We were greeted by the manager of the restaurant who had a special menu and private space reserved just for us! Once we were seated a waitress by the name of Brook took our orders. The food was SO GOOD! Many of us ordered seasoned crispy chicken tenders, southern fried steak, fried shrimp, or chicken and waffles. The sides some of us chose were cheesy creamy, moist macaroni and cheese, cornbread that was hot fresh crispy around the edges, and soft inside, collard greens or fries. Our dessert was banana pudding. This was easily the best meal thus far and another great time laughing and bonding. Tomorrow morning we start our day at the McLeod Plantation Historical Site.