Giving truth to Memphis youth
by Nithila Ramesh & India Mebane (White Station High School & Cordova High School)
Frayser is a part of Memphis that is often overlooked due to crime and poverty it is associated with. However, one man managed to bring the community together in a to provide the next generation with an unforgettable experience.
Teacher Alex Taillie created the International Travelers Club at Frayser High School (now Martin Luther King Jr. College Preparatory High School), with the goal of exposing the students to the culture and lifestyles of the world around them culminating in a trip of a lifetime for nine students to Spain.
“Dedication and determination can take you a long way,” said Smith, as at first, things did not go as planned.
“The District was not initially supportive of the trip, and for a while, it seemed like my job was in jeopardy,” recalled Taillie.
The lack of funds was the primary concern, and with many of the interested students not in the financial position to cover the trip, Taillie and two other teachers put their heads together.
Throughout the year, the teachers and students coordinated a total of 87 events, everything from carwashes to holding signs on the sidewalk, and managed to raise $39,000, which included donations from local businesses like Methodist North Hospital, Superlo, and Kroger. With teamwork and resilience, they managed to cover all the expenses of the trips for nine students. According to senior Wanya Smith, holding signs on the sidewalk from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday even in torrential weather paid off the most.
“People are willing to give,” said Smith. “You just have to find the right people.”
Seeing how determined and passionate the students were in achieving their goal, families and friends from the community and beyond began to contribute.
The selection of the students deemed to go on the trip was a process, requiring students to write an essay consisting of what they hope to learn in Spain. After students were selected from the first phase, they proceeded onto being interviewed by an adult panel. “The main reason for this was to determine the level of commitment from each student,” Taillie said. “They needed to know that this is serious business. “
Finally, they were able to enjoy the fruits of their labor from July – 8, traveling to Barcelona and then onto Madrid. Eighteenth century Spanish cathedrals standing amongst with modern day skyscrapers, street vendors peddling native delicacies, and peoples from all countries walking everywhere dazzled the nine students, giving them a glimpse of what the world held for them. For some, the culture shock was beyond anything they imagined.
“A major difference that I saw was that people walked everywhere, despite having cars and public transportation. It was interesting to see how much strangers would interact just by walking,” recent graduate Tim’mesha Hall said.
The cuisine proved to be a journey in itself. To soul food loving Southerners, seafood paella and boiled bratwurst might as well have been from a different planet. Cooking with generous amounts of oil and an incorporating modern and traditional gave the students a glimpse of how different the daily lives of the rest of the world are.
Was there a language barrier? Not really, according to one student. “There were so many other people from a lot of different countries, and if we didn’t have our tour guide, we were able to glean and exchange enough words to accomplish the task,” Smith said. “Especially if you’re out shopping, vendors have no problem understanding how to take your money,”
The students reflected on how their essays describing their expectations differed greatly to what they experienced. The places they went, the people they saw, and they hurdles they faced changed each of them in more ways than one. For some, their biggest fear was flying on an airplane for the first time.
The trip opened many students’ eyes to the exciting possibilities of the future. Since most of them are off to college, studying abroad is an option many look forward too. And the travel club is planning more international trips for students in the future, to places like Costa Rica.
Through endless persistence and unbreakable determination, the impossible became possible, and the ordinary transformed into something truly extraordinary. Being determined led the students to success and a lifelong memory.