College Student Community Engagement

By: Nathan Carpenter, Kaylee Elliott, Ify Ezimora, Eli Presberg, Santiago Roman – Students from Oberlin College

Since 2014, students, faculty, and staff from Oberlin College have traveled regularly to Africatown to work with community members and local organizations. During the past five years, we have collaborated on a range of projects — from conducting community health surveys with Africatown residents to launching a digital archive of oral history interviews with older members of the community, with the goal of preserving their stories for future generations.

Recently, we have had the wonderful opportunity to collaborate more deeply with the Mobile County Training School Alumni Association. Our work — which is supported in large part by the tireless commitment of Mr. Anderson Flen and Major Joe Womack — has focused on documenting the school’s incredible history.

This past November, three of us had the opportunity to attend the 50th reunion for the Class of 1968, which gathered at their high school prom location, the Battle House Hotel in downtown Mobile. We were privileged to help record the events of the weekend, including the many speakers who shared their wisdom, knowledge, and stories about the MCTS community. We also interviewed seven alum about their experiences at MCTS, and heard some incredible stories about love, challenge, and perseverance.

In January, all five of us returned to Mobile to continue our work. Over the course of 10 days, we interviewed 20 people connected to Africatown and/or MCTS in some way — many of them alum of the school. Again, we were so fortunate to be entrusted with the incredibly rich and powerful stories of the MCTS community. The bond that alumni feel to the school, with their teachers, and between each other was palpable in every conversation. Nearly everyone we interviewed shared stories about mentors who taught them lifelong lessons, mentioned how the culture of the school was foundational to their success later in life, and spoke with reverence about the day when they finally were allowed to wear a red tie as part of the senior class. It is clear how special being a Whippet was and continues to be.

Currently, we are working on the back-end of the interview process — editing videos, creating transcripts, and ultimately publishing to the online archive, which will be publicly accessible at africatown.oberlincollegelibrary.org. We will be in touch with the Alumni Association when we are able to take the videos live.

We also had the opportunity in January to meet with MCTS Principal Rashad Stallworth and discuss potential future collaborations between Oberlin and MCTS students. As we record parts of school’s history, we are also interested in supporting its present initiatives and working more closely with the current student body. As college students, it’s excited to interact with people who aren’t too much younger than us. This March, we will return to Mobile to explore those potential collaborations, and think in greater depth about how Oberlin can help support the growth of MCTS students.

The opportunity to work with the MCTS community — from students to current and former teachers, from administrators to alumni — continues to be one of the great privileges of our college careers. Every time we visit, we hear more incredibly rich stories about the school and its history, and every time we leave we can’t wait to come back. We look forward to maintaining the relationships we have built with the MCTS community these past few years, and on behalf of all the students from Oberlin who have and will come to know the school, we look forward to helping share your unique history and stories for years to come.

With great love and admiration for Whippets far and wide.