Harrison Phillips exited the museum feeling overwhelmed.
The emotion wasn't simply the result of the National Museum of African American History and Culture's 10 floors; rather, Phillips credited it to the poignant weight of the content itself.
"Emotionally taxing," said the Vikings defensive tackle.
Phillips and teammates Eric Kendricks, Irv Smith, Jr. and T.Y. McGill, along with Vikings Legends Steve Jordan, Tony Richardson and Visanthe Shiancoe, partnered with Project Success to take Minneapolis Public High School students to Washington, D.C., to tour the museum.
The unique field trip in the nation's capital provided an opportunity for youth to explore themes of identity, culture, community and equity as part of Project Success' proven curriculum.
"I don't even know if we got through a decent fraction of what there was – the materials to read, the videos to watch," said Phillips.
He noted that the group started at "Sports: Leveling the Playing Field," which explores the contributions of Black athletes, both on and off the field, before heading to the museum's basement to view "Slavery and Freedom." The exhibition takes visitors through 15th Century Africa and Europe, through the founding of the United States and concludes with the Civil War and Reconstruction periods.
"When you try to bite off that chunk of history, it's a tall task. It's a very unpleasant task, to try to be locked in and come in with a view of understanding, I would say," Phillips said. "Just to put yourself in the position, starting back … we had a conversation down by the ships and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, starting from there – all the way through Civil Rights and into today.
"It's just disgusting that it's a part of our history, but it is," Phillips added. "I'm very thankful for the time and appreciative of it, but again, it's draining."
Phillips told Vikings.com he was moved twice to tears during the tour.
The first instance occurred at the memorial for Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American boy who was abducted, tortured and lynched in Mississippi in 1955 after being accused of offending a white woman in her family's grocery store.
Phillips later was overcome by emotion by a drawing of a slave auction, in which is depicted a father in chains, already sold, and a mother pleading on her knees as a white man tore a child from her arms.
"You can see the children's names and ages and then what they sold for – and how [young] girls sold for a higher dollar amount because they were used for 'breeding' purposes … to be raped," Phillips said. "This is a reality that people went through, and to try to actually put yourself in that position where your child is ripped from your arms and sold at auction to be raped and forced to work in slavery for the rest of their lives … you can't compartmentalize that at all. That got me."
Kendricks was impacted early on by the section on various African American athletes.
"What goes through my mind is through the history of time, especially in our nation, I feel like [African Americans'] freedom has, in a way, been dependent on their success in sports," he said. "Even back then [before integration] – they couldn't be on the same hotels or buses – some of their financial independence and some of their stardom came from them having success in sports.
"Even though a lot has changed, and we've progressed so much further, there's a lot of kids today who come from the inner city who don't have a chance to go to college, who don't have a chance to seek anything higher. But they're really good at sports, and it's an avenue for wealth. It's an avenue for financial freedom for their families," Kendricks continued. "Even though the times have changed completely, you can kind of correlate the two together a little bit."
The Vikings linebacker was grateful for an opportunity to join Project Success and spend time with young people who inspire him.
Kendricks emphasized that these Minneapolis high school students could be eventual leaders of the country.
"I'm very hopeful," Kendricks said. "I feel like they're courageous. More courageous than ever. More knowledgeable than I was at that age, for sure. More aware.
"They have a great understanding of life, I feel like, at that age [having gone] through the pandemic," he added. "They knew what it was like to be taken away from the people they love [and being] in isolation. So they realize what's important."
Project Success Executive Director and Founder Adrienne Diercks said this trip proved especially meaningful after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the 2020 and 2021 events to be "hosted" remotely via Zoom.
Diercks expressed pride in the students and gratitude to the Vikings, who sponsored the trip to D.C. and whose Social Justice Committee made a $100,000 donation to Project Success this past winter.
Project Success' mission today remains the same as when Diercks founded the organization 28 years ago, she said: To inspire young people to dream about their futures, to set goals and achieves those goals – both short-term and long-term – and then to give them tools that will take them through the rest of their lives.
"One of the things we believe in at Project Success is that every student is unique and different. And every student, we know, has what they need inside them," Diercks explained. "So we facilitate workshops, activities, opportunities of excellence, global experiences. Every trip is unique. … This is about community and partnership and experiencing these things together."
Diercks referenced a time of reflection held among the group following the museum visit.
"Peter (a student) talked about how important unity was, and things can't change unless we're together. Many people talked about the importance of learning true history, and they talked about all the things they didn't know until they experienced this today," Diercks said. "The other piece that's so inspiring is, we will never lose the community we built today. We will all remember this for the rest of our lives. And this is just the beginning. Our partnerships with the Vikings, with the players, with the community, keep deepening. And I always say this is just the beginning for things we don't know, but that will lead to positive change."
"We've seen so much change since our first visit when the museum opened, where we had a student from every single high school in Minneapolis, and we came and saw the museum the same day that President [Barack] Obama saw the museum," Diercks continued. "There were several things different. One of the things is how diverse the group is today. … Many different experiences. Many different reasons for coming. As well as diversity in the players that participated, which led to diverse viewpoints of what we shared coming out of the museum, and what we're bringing back to our communities.
"That was one piece. The other piece is the awareness of our students – and even all of us who came to the museum – the awareness of how important truth is, how important history is, and how important our stories are," she said. "It's palpable in a way that's different from five years ago – and that's progress."
The high school students were able to hear from Jordan, who played for the Vikings from 1982-94, during the trip.
Jordan emphasized the word "perseverance" to the young people.
Whether persevering through the global pandemic, Jordan noted, or through societal tensions and racism, resolution in the face of hardship builds strong character.
"For us as African Americans – us as Americans, all – to go through what we've been through … It's not pretty on all sides, you know?" Jordan said. "I mean, there are people of color that have certainly paid a price, but there are also a lot of folks who are allies. And I saw that in the museum, as well, where there were allies, Caucasian folks, that stepped up – to their detriment. That's perseverance on their part, too, to try to work through some of these things.
"It will take more perseverance in order for us to get to where we need to get to, because we're not there. Not by a long shot," Jordan said.
Phillips and Kendricks knew they'd continue processing the museum visit over the next several days.
Kendricks pointed to a locker room as a microcosm of society, saying some should take a life lesson from the way a football team operates.
"You have to work alongside somebody who you don't necessarily agree with all the time. You may have totally polar-opposite viewpoints, come from totally different backgrounds … but you all have to work together to try to win," Kendricks said. "And you do that every day. You don't have time to be disagreeing with somebody. You don't have time to hate somebody. You've got to work together for the common goal. We're a lot more alike than we are different, for sure. Fundamentally – no matter what."
Phillips wrestled with the dichotomy of feeling discontent with humanity's current state, while also recognizing progress and reasons to be hopeful.
"I wish I'm telling you that I left with a lot of hope in my heart, because you're making your way from that and you see the great success, but we still have such a long way to go," he said. "But it's super great to be with these [students] and see how empowered they are and the confidence that they have – with the world as their oyster, the future is really bright for them."