Fifteen Minneapolis students are today celebrating Juneteenth with a deepened appreciation for African American history.
The young people, representing each Minneapolis Public Schools high school, recently took part in a Project Success + Minnesota Vikings trip to Washington, D.C., sponsored by Delta Air Lines, to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
"The kids are so curious and so young and so energetic – so they keep me young," laughed Vikings Legend Tony Richardson, who has now joined Project Success three times for the experience. "It's just a great overall trip. Even for me … experiencing with the young people, just understanding how far we've come but also how much farther we have to go."
Vikings teammates Greg Joseph, Brian Asamoah II, Josh Metellus and C.J. Ham, along with his wife Stephanie, accompanied the students. Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah also took part in the trip, as did Legends Visanthe Shiancoe and Mistral Raymond.
"It's one of those trips that if you say no, there might be something wrong with you. Because this is an unbelievable experience to come and learn about history – Black history, specifically, [which is] a part of American history," said Ham, also a return visitor. "I think everybody needs to make this trip. Take out some time to come here and just learn.
"The biggest takeaway for me this year is just the 'power of one,' " Ham continued. "There are so many significant figures who had the courage to speak up, to fight back, to make a difference.
They didn't let what they believed just stick with them – they wanted the whole world to know.
"They made a huge difference in their sports, in their jobs, in freedom and overall in the world," he added.
Ham appreciates the proximity of the trip to Juneteenth, a federal holiday that honors June 19, 1865.
More than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation executive order to free enslaved African Americans, Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, with news of freedom. More than 250,000 African Americans embraced independence by executive decree in what became known as Juneteenth or Freedom Day.
"It means everything. It truly means everything. That's when everybody was officially free," Ham said. "It's an ongoing process; we're all still striving to be better. But it's a time of the year where we all can get together and just celebrate freedom and liberation."
Added Asamoah: "It was the start of everything. It's a big day in our history. … A day that should be celebrated forever."
Asamoah hadn't been to Washington, D.C., since taking a field trip there as an eighth grader. Now having even more understanding of his family's background and Ghanaian heritage, he embraced the opportunity to join the Vikings and Project Success.
While touring the museum, Asamoah noticed an exhibit about slave ships coming to America. On the plaque were five different Adinkra symbols, including a familiar one that tugged on his heart strings: Gye Nyame, which translates to "Except God" in English. The symbols originated from the Ashanti people of present-day Ghana and were used to convey knowledge, wisdom and culture. The plaque read:
Throughout the African diaspora, objects made by enslaved people demonstrate the continuity of African knowledge and culture.
"I saw it and immediately knew, 'Oh, I know this symbol.' It's a symbol for God in my country," Asamoah said. "It was just cool to see stuff like that."
The second-year linebacker enjoyed the chance to teach some of his teammates and the high school students pieces of his culture.
While the museum visit likely was the most impactful part of the trip, the Vikings and Project Success had a second surprise for the students. Each was awarded a $1,000 scholarship, thanks to Delta Air Lines, to support their next steps of education.
"When Delta came in as a partner and allowed us to present scholarships for every student – that goes to their future – that's a game-changer. That's incredible," said Project Success Executive Director and Founder Adrienne Diercks.
She emphasized differences made by Project Success and its 30 years of operation.
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 $125,000 donation to Project Success this past winter.
View photos of Vikings players and Project Success traveling to Washington D.C. to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Project Success' mission today remains the same as when Diercks founded the organization: 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.
"We asked teachers at these high schools, 'Who in this moment do you think would benefit most from this experience?" Diercks explained about selecting students. "Getting to experience new things and different things in a safe space with your peers is very powerful.
"One of the things that Project Success has been built one from day one — and is the reason we keep getting to do what we do today — is our partnerships. Not just in word, but in action and in deep partnership," Diercks continued. "That is the Minnesota Vikings. From the Wilfs, to the players, to the Legends, everyone in the administration, the coaches – we are partners. Or as they said [when presenting] the scholarships, we're a family. It's because of the Minnesota Vikings … that this has all been possible. We couldn't do it without each other."