Students at Kansas City’s Hope Leadership Academy sat on benches at the George Washington Carver National Monument, surrounding a statue of Carver as they listened in awe to a recording of the great scientist giving a commencement address at Selma University in 1942.
“You’ve all that the greatest of men have had, two arms, two hands, two legs, two eyes and a brain to use if you would be wise. With this equipment they all began, so start from the top and say “I can,” said Carver, reciting a poem by Edgar Guest called “Equipment.”
The message was just a part of what the fourth grade students learned during the day-long trip to the monument in Diamond, MO, where Carver was born. The site, just two hours south of Kansas City is where Carver was born as a slave in 1865.
The trip is one of two to the monument site each year sponsored by members of Kansas City’s Alpha Delta Sigma chapter of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity. For four years, brothers in the chapter have partnered with the National Park Trust to fund field-trips for students in schools in Kansas City’s urban core.
“We want to make sure our young people can foster the same ideas as Carver and know they could be a scientist too,” said Eric Wells, one of the event coordinators. “We want them to think outside the box and take them outside the city. We try to give them the opportunity to learn even more. You’re only going to get so much in school, but it’s up to you to take it a little step further.”
Carver, who was a Phi Beta Sigma, was known as the “Peanut Man.” He was a renowned agricultural scientist and educator. The monument site was the farm of slave owners Moses and Susan Carver. When Carver was an infant he was kidnapped by bandits. While he was eventually returned, his mother was never heard from again.
From the time he was a young boy, Carver spent a lot of time in the woods collecting and observing plants. Later, he moved to Minneapolis, KS where he graduated high school before earning a college degree and eventually a master’s degree in agricultural science from Iowa State University.
He experimented with seeds, soil and grains, and developed fertilizers to produce more food and better crops for farmers. As a result, he created hundreds of products using peanuts, sweet potatoes and soybeans. Carver went on to teach and conduct research at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama for decades.
The George Washington Carver National Monument was established in 1943, soon after Carver’s death at 78 years old. It was the first monument in America dedicated to an African American.
At the monument, students from Hope Leadership Academy were able to visit Carver’s birth site, conduct science experiments with peanuts and walk the one-mile trail in the same woods Carver explored as a child.
“I learned that George Washington Carver had to walk eight miles to go to school,” Hope Leadership Academy student Israel Lomax told the park ranger.
In May, the Sigmas will take KIPP: Endeavor Academy students on a field trip to the monument.
“Just know we’re giving students the ultimate experience,” Wells said. “We’re giving them the ‘blue’ (a reference to Sigma’s color) carpet experience because we want to impact kids and let them know that they mean something. We want them to be successful.”