A Project for Students and Citizens

Living Democracy in Selma/Old Cahawba: Week Ten

In Selma / Old Cahawba on August 6, 2013 at 3:08 pm

8794614371_5221eaf075_zExperience in Selma/Old Cahawba provides adventure, life lessons

By Taryn Wilson

You can read every book in the world about swimming, be able to identify every stroke, even know the physics that make it possible, but that knowledge isn’t what keeps you afloat in the water. It’s your instinct that keeps you from drowning. This summer, I’ve found that Living Democracy isn’t all that different from swimming.

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Taryn Wilson discusses plans with local citizens and officials in Selma. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

Before I arrived in Selma I thought I had it all figured out. I knew what my plan was and what I needed to do to complete it in 10 weeks. I’d read just about all there is to read on the internet about Selma and its history. I printed off every name, phone number, and email that I thought might be useful at some point. I prepared myself like I would for a big test, reading over things repeatedly, cramming information into word documents and writing down things to remember. I felt pretty prepared, like I was ready for the final exam on in my “Selma 1000” class. But all of the reading and studying and note taking in the world can’t prepare you for reality.

Andrew's LatestWords can’t communicate everything there is to experience in life. I read about the Edmund Pettus Bridge on multiple occasions, but nothing that I read talked about how the sounds it made when cars drive over it or the how you can barely see the stoplight on the other side when you’re driving into town. The web sites I read didn’t tell me how many times I would introduce myself, and in some cases repeatedly introduce myself, to people.

The books I scanned didn’t tell me about the awesome conversations I’d have in Wal-Mart about the benefits of gluten free diets and how to properly tie off stiches when crocheting a multicolored afghan (still haven’t mastered that one). All of the things that truly make a place what it is are things that you can’t read about or study for. The only way to prepare yourself is to experience it, and that’s what has made living in Selma such an adventure.

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Community shrimp boil provides opportunity for Taryn Wilson to meet residents. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

Living Democracy in Selma has taught me a lot about how communities work and sometimes don’t work. Like any other community in the country, Selma has its positive points and its negative points, but it’s how the citizens work to empower the positive things and improve the negative things that really shed light on what community is. It’s not always going to be a smooth process. People are going to disagree, mistakes are going to be made, and someone is always going to have a “better” way to do something.

But when it’s all said and done, the fact that there are disagreements and mistakes means that people care and are trying to make their community better. That empathy alone is something that some communities can’t cultivate in their citizens. Coming from a hometown in a totally different region with totally different concerns, it’s amazing to see that Selma has people who care and work just as hard, if not harder, under different and more difficult circumstances.

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Wilson stands on bank of Cahaba River where she helped develop a canoe trail for Old Cahawba. (Photo by Nathan Simone)

I don’t know that I could truly have understood these things before coming to Selma. I could have read about them, I could have had a discussion in a class about them, but nothing compared to seeing them first hand. And that is what makes Living Democracy here, and in any other community, so important. Some things can be taught, other things have to be discovered. They have to be experienced. And giving students the opportunity to get out and experience these things is what makes good, engaged citizens in the future.

Having been here for most of the summer, I feel like I have just now gotten the hang of things. I don’t turn down the wrong streets anymore, and I can maybe even recommend a restaurant or two for you to try, but I definitely wouldn’t go so far as to say I know Selma. I think in my 10 weeks here, I have probably only scratched the surface of all that Selma has to offer. And that’s the way it should be.

To truly understand a community, you shouldn’t be able to gain the necessary knowledge in 10 weeks. It takes years of ups and downs, crises and celebrations to really know and be a part of a community. So, I suppose, if Living Democracy is like swimming, and Selma is like a pool, I’ve managed to tread water, doggy paddle at the most. I’m no Michael Phelps, but if we are measuring who learned the most from their experience this summer, I bet I’d win the gold.

Selma Panaroma

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