On July 15 through 17, two UNC athletes joined a delegation of athletes from the ACC traveling to Selma and Montgomery, Ala. for an immersive social justice journey.
UNC Senior Associate Athletic Director Cricket Lane chose Madias Loper and Jackie Wilhelm to represent North Carolina on the trip based on their involvement in social justice initiatives on campus.
Loper, a rising fifth-year track and field athlete and team captain, helped lead the Black Lives Matter march attended by many UNC athletes in August 2020 and is on the Community, Equity & Inclusion Board of Undergraduate Business Program students within the Kenan-Flagler Business School. Wilhelm, a rising senior on the rowing team, attended the Black Lives Matter march on campus and helped a hometown friend organize a BLM demonstration.
“I wanted to take students who were involved in the mission of DEI work, and both of them had been very influential in things that we have done as a student-athlete body,” Lane said. “(Loper and Wilhelm) were kind of the logical ones.”
Each of the 15 schools in the ACC sent representatives, all of whom attended virtual meetings before traveling to discuss the trip's purpose and prepare for their experience. The trip, which was part of the ACC’s social-justice platform, ACC UNITE, was conducted in collaboration with the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences, upholding the conference’s commitment to creating educational experiences for its athletes.
While traveling to various landmarks that were important to the civil rights movement, the athletes heard first-hand accounts of the Bloody Sunday attack in Selma and learned about the impact students had on the civil rights movement. The group also attended a presentation by Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and its Legacy Museum, which seeks to provide a “comprehensive history of the United States with a focus on the legacy of slavery."
Thinking back, Wilhelm said she remembers her grade-school teachers sweeping the truth of slavery under the rug. She said that going to the Legacy Museum was a difficult, but necessary, experience.
“We did everything together from listening to all of our speakers to walking over the bridge, so it really felt like a community event,” Wilhelm said. “While we were talking about different racial disparities and how poorly Black people have been treated in America for so long, it was just great to have everyone together going through that really, really emotional time as one.”
Loper can recall family trips to history museums and monuments growing up, but he said listening to stories from eyewitnesses over the weekend was especially impactful. Being able to share that experience with other athletes helped Loper feel more vulnerable and allowed him to have those difficult, yet critical, discussions.
“Everything that you can do to impact a cause is very important and that sense of community is what’s making the change,” Loper said. “That’s what I think is the most important of the three things. You need a community, you need people behind you. No one has done anything by themselves that has made any type of change.”
Coming back from Alabama has given the pair a renewed sense of passion to create change in Chapel Hill.
“This was a trip with people who wanted to be there,” Loper said. “Everyone wanted to learn, Black or white people. That want to, that determination, that inspiration that I was able to feel, I want to spread that to as many people as I can.”