For seven years, has inspired Stamford middle school students to not only learn about African heritage and the Atlantic slave trade, but to take their learning outside the classroom. This year, nine students have completed the program and eight will be traveling to Africa this July.
On May 12, the students had arrived at early that morning for their final exam. That evening, they welcomed guests to the cafeteria for the cultural food fair, the central fundraiser for Rites of Passage for the past seven years and one that is expected to raise between $5—6,000 to help with the students’ travel expenses.
In the kitchen, parents of the students in the program were hard at work making final preparations for the meal. As part of their commitment to the program, each family contributed a dish.
“You have everything here—you have Spanish, Haitian, American, and Jamaican,” Angie Murphy said. “Everyone made something.”
Parent Evette Brown had prepared Jamaican jerk chicken and Murphy had prepared fried chicken.
“We knew about [Rite of Passage] and I couldn’t wait for her to be a part of it,” Murphy said.
The students, now at the end of the course, can now look forward to the travel portion of the program.
“I learned a lot, if it weren’t for Rite of Passage, I wouldn’t know anything about my ancestors,” Raeann Scott said. “It was a shocking experience, it just changes you.”
Scott is looking forward to traveling to the Door of No Return, the historic exit point of slaves off the coast of Senegal and a place that has been a powerful part of the past six trips.
“I’m looking forward to it all, it will be life changing,” sixth grader Mikhail Dean said.
For student and parent alumni of Rites of Passage, many continue to come back to support the program.
Nancy Bonilla was a part of the second Rite of Passage program with her two children and Shawn Soljour traveled with her daughter on the first trip.
“It was humbling,” Bonilla said. “It’s not something you can imagine doing with your two children at that age, but the children took the course and it opened my eyes”
Bonilla praises the way that the program takes learning outside of the classroom—students met to read aloud from their journals and reflect on the experience, seamlessly taking their classroom knowledge and applying it to their travels. Soljour too describes a life changing experience that opened her eyes and her daughter’s eyes to their culture.
“We knew they were onto something really big, but now that its been seven year, I think its only going to get bigger,” Bonilla said. “It inspired [my daughters]. It made them hungry for knowledge and also hungry for travel.”
“The mission has changed and the purpose has grown deeper,” Soljour said. “I want this to continute onto the next generation so that my daughter’s children can go someday.”