FasTrac’s annual tour of HBCUs and Civil Rights sites helps Iowa City students see the world differently

FasTrac fundraising banquet

Old Brick Church — Thursday, April 19 at 6 p.m.

FasTrac students visiting the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. — photo courtesy of FasTrac

This year’s FasTrac tour of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and important sites associated with the Civil Rights movement will mark two important anniversaries. In addition to being the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., 2018 is also the 10th anniversary of the first FasTrac tour.

FasTrac is a nonprofit that takes “a holistic approach” to helping Iowa City kids in grades 9 to 12 who are having trouble in school, according to Henri Harper, the program’s founder and executive director. Currently, FasTrac works with 25 students.

“We work with parents and students, like a case management program, to connect them with helpful programs. There are a lot of good programs for young people here in Iowa City,” Harper said. “We also offer support to students and their parents. We’re on call 24 hours a day.”

FasTrac focuses on improving a student’s performance in school.

“We decided to focus on school work, on the academics. I’ve always felt that if you can change how a student approaches their academic studies, it will lead to a change in behavior in all aspects of life,” Harper said.

Harper came up with the idea for FasTrac while working at Iowa City High School in 2007.

“We had a lot of kids in transition, who have moved to Iowa from other communities,” Harper recalled. “We had a lot of young black kids, who were angry about coming to live in Iowa. They felt at the time that Iowa saw all black kids the same.”

“We show kids that they’re responsible for their own education, and encourage them to get involved and take ownership of their schools,” he added. “Once they start having some success academically, they want more of it.”

FasTrac’s annual tour reinforces the program’s central idea of students taking control of their own education.

“Visiting the HBCUs, the kids see college students who look like them,” Harper said. “We use that to turn the focus back on our students, to say to them that these college students were facing the same issues you are, but they are succeeding.”

“It opens their eyes to possibilities. They come back and realize they can go to the University of Iowa or Kirkwood College or another college.”

The tour of significant sites from the history of civil rights movement in Atlanta and Memphis, as well as three Alabama cities — Selma, Montgomery and Birmingham — also opens the students’ eyes, according to Harper.


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“Learning about civil rights in class, sometimes students think it’s about as a narrow thing that just applies to black people,” Harper said. “But the tour lets them see civil rights, human rights, are for everybody.”

FasTrac is currently raising money for this year’s tour. There will be a fundraising banquet at Old Brick, Church on Thursday at 6 p.m. The minimum suggested donation for the banquet is $25. The nonprofit is also accepting donations through its website and the Action Network fundraising site to help cover the cost for its students.

“We need to raise $36,000,” Harper said.

The tour is also open anyone interested in making the journey. This year, both Iowa City Councilman Rockne Cole and Mayor Jim Throgmorton are going.

“I’m 73 years old, I lived through the civil rights movement and have strong memories of that era,” Throgmorton said. “I’ll be paying attention to the students, because I’m curious to see how the visits to the various sites affects them. I’m interested in hearing them talk about it, and hearing what questions they have.”

Participating in the eight day tour (June 16-24) costs $500 per person, which covers everything except the cost of food, Harper said.

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