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"On the first day, before we started our journey, one of the National Park Service Rangers sought to inspire us by asking, 'Why do we March?'" wrote Pamela Pescosolido JD'90, describing the historic steps she was about to take on the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March. She continued, "Various answers were given. The best? 'For equality ... For civil rights ... Because we're not done yet.'"

For three days, as a participant in the National Park Service's (NPS) 50th Anniversary Walking Classroom, March 21-25, Pamela walked to celebrate the rights of marchers, the responsibility Americans have to participate in the democratic process, and the effect the Selma to Montgomery March had on the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. One of 300 participants in the NPS's event, Pamela described, "we all felt that we had to be there; we had to be a part of it, no matter how far we had to travel or at what expense. We began the five days as strangers; we ended as true friends."

Pamela, a partner in a large citrus business based in California's San Joaquin Valley, recently shared some of her experiences in an interview with the Alumni Office.

>> How did you get involved in the 50th Anniversary March from Selma to Montgomery?

I saw something about the 50th Anniversary March on the National Park Service's Facebook page. The NPS was putting on a "Walking Classroom" that would recreate the 1965 March from Selma to Montgomery on the exact dates, 50 years later. 300 spots were available (to honor the original 300 authorized by the Supreme Court to walk 50 years ago): 150 were to be students aged 15-25. Those people had to write an essay and be accepted through that process. The remaining 150 spots were for members of the general public and were filled on a first come basis, provided one could pass a background check.

>> What was the most inspiring moment during your journey?

On the first day, before we started our journey, one of the NPS Rangers sought to inspire us by asking, "Why do we March?" Various answers were given; the best: "For equality ... For civil rights ... Because we're not done yet." Later that morning, we started our March in Selma and crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge. People were lining the streets watching us pass, waving, cheering, leaving their stores, homes, and businesses to walk along with us for a while. As we got to the peak of the bridge, we saw at the bottom on the other side a number of police cars. If you've seen the movie Selma or know some civil rights history, you know that in on a Sunday in 1965, the first time marchers tried to cross the bridge, they were brutally attacked by state troopers and local law enforcement as they got to the eastern side of the bridge.

On March 21, 2015, the police and state troopers were there for our protection from threats of Klan violence that they had received. Even knowing this, it was chilling and incredibly moving to walk across that bridge a week and a half ago. Many of us in the Walking Classroom group were choked up and in tears.

>> How do you think this experience will affect you going forward?

I can't even find the words to express the myriad emotions we all shared during those days in Alabama. It was the most incredible experience I've ever been a part of, and I can't imagine that I will ever be a part of such an experience again. Every person I spoke to in our group had different reasons for being there; we were from over 29 states, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas; we were every shade of skin color, every belief system and religion; we were from all different backgrounds; and we had all seemingly found out about the Walking Classroom in different ways. Yet we all felt that we had to be there; we had to be a part of it, no matter how far we had to travel or at what expense. We began the five days as strangers; we ended as true friends. Through discussions with actual marchers from 1965, conversations with fellow participants, and physically moving through the 54 miles, it was a journey of reflection, inspiration and celebration.

>> Were there any experiences or people who influenced your thinking or perspective on civil rights during your time at VLS?

One of my favorite classes at VLS was constitutional law with Peter Teachout. He inspired in me a love of the Bill of Rights and constitutional issues that has lasted to this day.

>> Any last thoughts?

The National Park Service represents the very best of our federal government. Every person involved in putting together this program—from the highest to the lowest, from the Secretary of the Interior, to the Director of NPS, to the Regional offices, to the law enforcement Rangers and the interpretive staff who marched with us every day, and the janitors at the Lowndes Center who performed their work with huge smiles of greeting to all of us—every single one of them are amazing, and deserve the highest kudos and support as the NPS enters this its centennial year.

See more of Pamela’s photographs from her journey on Instagram and on Facebook.
Learn more about the events marking the City of Montgomery's 50th Anniversary Selma to Montgomery March.

Selma to Montgomery march photo by Albert Cesare

Photo © 2015 Alberto Cesare

Pamela Pescosolido march

Photo © 2015 Pam Pescosolido

Pamela Pescosolido march bridge

Photo © 2015 Pam Pescosolido

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