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Student internships offer historic perspective

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBAN, Ga. -- College internships have become something of a rite of passage, one of those things students are expected to do before they graduate.

Two interns from diverse backgrounds are getting as much a living history lesson as they are work experience during summer stints at the Albany Civil Rights Institute.

Boston College history/political science major Sam Ratner of Fairfield, Vt., and Albany Technical College hotel, restaurant and tourism management student Sharlotte Crimes of Albany have immersed themselves in the history of the Albany Movement while "doing a little of everything that needs to be done" at the local civil rights museum.

"I came here directly from a semester abroad in South Africa," Ratner, who is writing his thesis on the impact of the Albany Movement, said. "I sent an e-mail to Dr. (Lee) Formwalt telling him of my plans, and he graciously brought me here.

"I chose the Albany Movement for my thesis because I think its impact on the civil rights movement is underappreciated nationally. It's pretty cool to have an opportunity to be able to see where all that historic stuff happened."

Crimes, meanwhile, said an unexpected bonus of her internship at the institute is the deep appreciation she's gained for the hardships people like her grandparents had to overcome.

"It's really impacted me to know that Dr. (Martin Luther) King talked at mass meetings at the little church here and had it packed to the streets," she said. "And I've also gained a much greater understanding of my grandfather and grandmother's history.

"I understand a little better what all they had to go through."

Formwalt, the ACRI's executive director, said the internship program at the museum grew out of necessity.

"With the limited staff we have here, there's just way too much stuff to do," he said. "We started an internship program hoping to involve students from all three of our (higher education) institutions: Darton, Albany State and Albany Tech.

"For us, their work is a tremendous help. They get their hands in a little bit of everything we do. But it's also invigorating to get a shot of the youthful enthusiasm they bring with them. Sometimes, when we're 40 years distant, we old fogies can lose perspective. Working with these guys helps clue us in."

Ratner, who took the opportunity to watch the Germany-Australia and Netherlands-Japan World Cup soccer matches while in South Africa, said that trip offered a number of new experiences.

But the trip to Albany relates directly to successful completion of his educational goals.

"There's no doubt that the people of the Albany Movement were American heroes," he said. "I'm proud that my work here will help to maintain the memory of what they did."

Crimes, who hopes to one day own a restaurant, said her internship at the Civil Rights Institute helps give her experience necessary to realize that dream.

"You can read about things in history books, but it's something else to walk through these exhibits here and get a vision of what really happened," she said. "I'm learning about my history while gaining valuable management experience."

Brandi Lucas, an instructor in Albany Tech's hotel, restaurant and tourism management program, said Crimes' internship will give her a better sense of the community in which she hopes to build a career.

"It's not just the history lessons," Lucas said. "She's getting involved in the community, learning to interact with the public. That's vital in the career path she's chosen."

Crimes and Ratner have played significant roles in preparing for tonight's ACRI program, which centers around a temporary exhibit based on the film "All My Babies." The film looks at the career of an area midwife who delivered African-American babies. The program, which kicks off at 7 p.m., includes still photos from the era that complement the film.