UA Little Rock essay contest winners explore African-American history in New York City

The students who traveled to New York City include (L to R): Back row: Deuntay Bennett, Sean Corrothers, Tori Williams, Tieranee Ransom, and Mackenzi Baker. Front row: Kimberly Maurer, Ravon Gaston, and Jessica Doyne.

Eight University of Arkansas at Little Rock students who won a Black History Month essay contest took a free trip to explore African-American history in New York City.  

Dr. John Kirk, director of the UA Little Rock Anderson Institute on Race and Ethnicity, led the trip July 9-16 in New York City.

“The students received an overview of key places and people in New York’s black history to give them a flavor of the city’s contributions to that history and to inspire them to further exploration and study,” Kirk said. “Obviously, this can’t all be covered in a week, but we tried to provide a diverse geographical, chronological, and cultural spectrum of places and activities to experience.”

The students were all winners of an essay contest. In 600 words or less, students answered the question: How has any one organization, movement, place, or period in New York City’s history contributed to the African-American struggle for freedom and equality?

The students include McKenzi Baker, international studies major; Deuntay Bennett, economics major; Sean Corrothers, accounting major; Jessica Doyne, professional and technical writing major; Ravan Gaston, political science major; Kimberly Maurer, English-secondary education major; Tieranee Ransom, elementary education major; and Tori Williams, English major with a creative writing emphasis.

The group started their trip with a walking tour of Harlem, which included stops at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and Sylvia’s restaurant, a soul food landmark in the neighborhood.

“On the second day, we took a Hip Hop tour of Harlem and the Bronx, guided by Grandmaster Caz of Hush Hip Hop Tours,” Kirk said. “We had great fun visiting a number of Hip Hop sites and learning about the music’s history and culture. We even had a lesson in breakdancing! That evening we attended Amateur Night at the world-famous Apollo Theater in Harlem. Our students joined in the fun and one, Tori Williams, was pulled onto stage to participate along with two others from the audience in an amateur dance competition with the winner chosen by the audience.”

Williams agreed that the experience of being selected to participate in the dance competition left him “flummoxed.”

“The dance competition was a fun experience,” Williams said. “I was sitting there enjoying the experience when suddenly the spotlight hit me, and the host pointed to me while saying, ‘I want you.’ I wasn’t sure that he was referring to the right person and was frankly a little flummoxed. He confirmed it though, and I headed to the stage. The rest is history as they say. I made my presence felt with my energy, my cooler-than-cool dance moves, and eliciting major cheers at the mention of my hometown, Little Rock, Arkansas.”

Additionally, the students took an architectural tour of Manhattan by boat to see Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. They also toured Queens and Brooklyn, where they visited the Addisleigh Park neighborhood, New York’s first black middle-class suburban neighborhood established in the 1940s, and saw the former homes of famous residents Fats Waller, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, James Brown and Jackie Robinson. They also took a trip to the Louis Armstrong Home and Museum and viewed the former residence of the famous jazz musician.

“While the trip as a whole was unforgettable, I have to say that the culture was the most memorable thing to me,” Williams said. “It was interesting to see the brownstones in Queens and learn the history behind the reasons for two doors, or the suburban area in Addisleigh where a myriad of African-American celebrities resided that felt like we weren’t in New York at all, or the exquisite architecture of the tenements in Harlem, or the bodegas and vendors that lined every corner and street. Each area offered a completely new and different experience with a wide variety of nationalities and races.”

In the upper right photo, UA Little Rock students visit the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. They include (L to R): Back row: Deuntay Bennett, Sean Corrothers, Tori Williams, Tieranee Ransom, and Mackenzi Baker. Front row: Kimberly Maurer, Ravon Gaston, and Jessica Doyne.

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