VIEWPOINT Misperception of Southerners Mitigated in Appalachia By Noah Riseman

I cannot figure out how I grew up hating the South. I had never traveled there, so I had no direct exposure to the culture or people. Perhaps it was the media. Every now and then on “Dateline” or “20/20” I saw stories of discrimination still in the South. Maybe it was my liberal assachusetts public school education. Everything Southern either involved slavery, the Civil War, racism or the Civil Rights ovement. Whatever the cause, either subliminally through the media or explicitly from my teachers, the fact remains that many of us Northerners mature with a skewed image of the South; it consists of straight male WASPs toting a Bible in one hand and a shotgun in the other while driving a pickup truck with a Confederate flag waving in the back.

But, alas, my opinion has changed since my amazing spring break trip. Through the Spring Break in Appalachia program, I signed up along with 12 other students to journey to Robeson County, North Carolina. Robeson County is the southernmost part of North Carolina, along I-95 where you see the multitudinous signs for Pedro’s South of the Border. This county is one of the most diverse in North Carolina, with a population approximately 40 percent Lumbee Native American, 30 percent black, 25 percent white and five percent Latino and Asian. The community is also one of the poorest in North Carolina, and ever since the North American Free Trade Agreement, a large number of jobs have left the county for exico. I am not writing this piece to knock NAFTA, though – quite frankly I do not know enough about it to denounce it or to advocate it. I want to tell you about how the spring break trip, and all of the characters we met, changed my outlook on this country, its problems and its future.

We spent the week working for Mac, a minister for the United Church of Christ who lives in Robeson County with his wife, Donna. Donna is Lumbee, a Native American tribe assimilated early and struggling to find its history amid the ever-changing mainstream society. Mac runs the Center for Community Action, which is an organization that works particularly with young people to learn through nature and service. Our mission during spring break – to convert an old shed into a craft center, and to start a nature trail for a camp Mac is building in the district. Just talking to ac and Donna, you get a sense of openness, intelligence and friendship. They are both very knowledgeable about Robeson County and its relation to the entire United States, and through their work the area achieves a spiritual and social growth.

One of my favorite people we met in Robeson County was Patricia, who works for Mac and doubles as a substitute teacher in a local middle school. Our Georgetown group visited Patricia’s eighth grade Civics class and met with the diverse student body. We discussed topics ranging from their future dreams to their opinions on interracial dating. It was interesting to hear that although the bulk of students have no problems with interracial relationships, their parents still do. I guess our country still has not progressed as far as we would hope. Later that day, I talked to Patricia about the students’ prospects. She told me that, unfortunately, the majority of pupils drop out during high school and wind up doing drugs. Nonetheless, she said our visit was a great experience for her students because meeting college students gives them more incentive to pursue higher education.

Probably the most entertaining person we met was James, who is African American, and works for Mac at the site. While tearing tar off a roof with a shovel, James and I had an interesting conversation that probably would never have happened with any Joe or Jane Hoyas. He told me about his numerous wives, whom he met on many of his road trips he went on while he was singing in band, and the 17 children he had from them. Then he told me that everything he had just told me was a lie. Beyond that, James nicknamed one girl on our trip “Superwoman” for her supreme abilities in lifting heavy sinks and a toilet. Between his one-liners and his outgoing personality, working with James was quite amusing.

Unfortunately, I do not have enough time or space to detail everyone else we met, but suffice it to say we conversed with a Lumbee potter, the man who kicked the Ku Klux Klan out of North Carolina, several small children and some powwow dancers. Everyone was so friendly, and for some reason everyone gave us free stuff; James the potter even gave one participant a hand-carved pipe. I suddenly learned the meaning of “Southern hospitality” when we stopped in a few local restaurants (by the way, Southern food is so fattening yet so delicious).

So what is my point? First, spring break in Appalachia was the greatest experience I have had at Georgetown, and I highly recommend it. Second, I have a new outlook on the composition of this country. Southerners are not all Bible-toting agents of God promoting intolerance. Robeson County is an example of pluralism in action and cooperation among members of all socio-economic classes. eeting the people from Robeson County taught me that although our nation’s social, economic and racial divisions run deep, we need only lose our preconceptions and open our eyes to the physical and spiritual community for growth.

Noah Riseman is a sophomore in the College.

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