Witnessing history: Student shares perspective on trailblazing educator and civil rights activist Mary Bethune statue unveiled in U.S. Capitol

In this first-person piece, FIU student Teddisha Mackey shares her experience at the unveiling of the Mary McLeod Bethune statue in the Capitol and the accompanying Florida Statewide Summit on Equity In Education hosted by FIU in DC.

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By Teddisha Mackey, hospitality management major with a specialization in travel and tourism

Summer break does not mean that the fun ends! On July 13 and 14, a few FIU students and I had the opportunity to visit the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., to take part in the Florida Statewide Summit on Equity In Education hosted by FIU in DC. The two-day trip consisted of learning and participating in history being made.

The summit is meant to immerse us in the historic celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune and the second day is an opportunity to engage with policy and learn advocacy strategies in order to follow in her footsteps as a champion of educational equity.

Who is Mary McLeod Bethune? Bethune was an American educator, philanthropist, humanitarian, womanist and civil rights activist in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She made history again on Wednesday as the first Black person to have a state-commissioned statue in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall when her statue replaced that of a Confederate general. Bethune epitomizes all of the values of the state — the first to be represented by a Black American in the National Statuary Hall — holds dear, from industriousness to thirst for education to desire to build peace.

The trip started early on July 13 to make it to the airport by 6 a.m. for an experience of a lifetime. With weary eyes and a cup of coffee, all 10 FIU students, including me, were on their way to network, interact and immerse ourselves in this historic moment. Gathering our items and running from the airport to ground transportation to ensure that we make it in time was a thrill. Luckily, we arrived to a welcoming staff from FIU, Bethune-Cookman University, Florida A&M University and the University of Florida.

During our visit, we mainly worked with FIU in DC and FIU’s Office of Social Justice and Inclusion. All students gathered in the FIU in the DC office to introduce themselves and watch the unveiling of this amazing statue that captured Bethune’s spirit. This statue proved that her living was not in vain and what she fought for is to this day going strong. We then later went to the National Statuary Hall to view this statue in person. Before even getting to this amazing site, we had the chance to meet Congresswoman Frederica Wilson and U.S. Rep Bennie Thompson.

Afterward, we started our journey to view this masterpiece made by Artist Nilda Comas. Seeing this in person next to another African American Hero, Rosa Parks, was surreal. Students gathered around to capture themselves next to this statue for lasting memories.

We then toured the capitol and headed to the Mary McLeod Bethune Symposium in the Congressional Auditorium. Speakers such as Dr. Johnnetta Cole, Dr. Thelma.T. Daley, Dr. Allida Black, Dr. Camesha Whittaker, The Hon. Bill Daley, The Hon. James El Clyburn, and so many more shared their gratitude for Dr. Bethune, and how we can continue her legacy.

Later in the day, we had an opportunity to visit some of the most memorable monuments, such as the Washington Monument, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Lincoln Monument and so much more. Our tour guide Mr. John enlightened us on not only the history of the monuments but his stories as well which led us to have open discussions surrounding equity and diversity in America.

Overall this trip has allowed us to immerse and create strategies to continue Bethune’s legacy. It has connected individuals from different institutions that share the same interests in ensuring that the human race is treated equally. This trip is surely one to remember!

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