In the summer of 2017, Bryce Bolden and two dozen high school teens visited Money, Miss., as part of a trip with Cultural Leadership, a St. Louis-based program that trains the next generation of civil rights leaders.
While there, they stopped at the site of the former Bryant’s Grocery Store, where 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955 allegedly whistled at the white store owner’s wife. Till was later abducted and murdered. The murder helped propel the civil rights movement, drawing attention to injustices happening against African Americans.
The teens from St. Louis discovered that a historical marker at the site had been vandalized. They quickly jumped into action, constructing a temporary sign with notes and hand-drawn pictures. They also alerted authorities so that the sign could be repaired.
“We knew this was an act of hate and somebody trying to cover up history,” Bryce said. The moment was an opportunity “put up the truth” to ensure that Till’s “legacy does not die down. We are still aware of acts of hate and violence that happen in our country. This part of our history is still prominent today.”
The senior at Chaminade College Preparatory School will be one of 30 area high school students honored with the Dr. Martin Luther King Model of Justice Award Sunday, Jan. 20, at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. The awards ceremony is a highlight of the 43rd annual Mass for the Preservation of Peace and Justice, which commemorates the birth and legacy of Rev. King.
Bryce’s involvement with Cultural Leadership is among a long list of community endeavors the 17-year-old has been involved with since high school. Beyond his involvement with Cultural Leadership, which facilitates learning about social justice topics from the perspective of Jewish and African American cultures and history, Bryce also was a member of the FOCUS St. Louis Youth Leadership Program, which provides high school juniors with tools to become civic and community leaders.
FOCUS opened the door for Bryce to participate in Sites of Conscience St. Louis. Within that program, he and a team of teens spearheaded a “fishbowl” activity at the Missouri History Museum on education and equality and the school to prison pipeline. The activity coincided with the Civil Rights exhibit at the museum.
Bryce also also has volunteered with other organizations, including St. Louis Area Foodbank, Ranken Jordan Hospital and BJC Hospital. He also was involved with Better Family Life, a local organization that works with underserved communities. He helped with the intake process that connects teens and young adults with jobs. “We helped young adults, ages 16-24, to get jobs and to have a positive impact in their lives and get their lives on track. Better Family Life is very much focused on the community and direct action.”
He spoke about the influence of his parents, neither of whom went to college. “They’ve always instilled a hard-work ethic,” Bryce said. “They know the way they have come to success is unique and does not come for everyone. They’ve always wanted to show me, this is not the life that everyone is able to live and it does take work. There can be a lot of adversity in the process. They wanted to make sure I was well rounded and exposed to different people.”
Bryce said Rev. King was “someone who was resilient, someone who didn’t give up, someone who was not afraid of backlash — and who was willing to fight for justice, when even at the time (it) was not a popular opinion. He was someone who served all people. I try not to limit my service to one group of people, but spreading my horizons.”
Volunteer work has showed Bryce that “having a strong support system is key. We all helped rectify the Emmett Till sign. When I was leading conversations on sexism or the school to prison pipeline, we were doing it together. We’re a stronger force when we are together.”
Bryce also has learned that “no impact is too small. And always be willing to make the change — you just have to try.”
2019 Martin Luther King Jr. Model of Justice honorees
Catholic school honorees
Anna Laine, Barat Academy
Emily Hernandez, Bishop DuBourg
Marian Montiel, Cardinal Ritter College Prep
Bryce Bolden, Chaminade College Prep
Grant Tebeau, Christian Brothers College
Kate Schoen, Cor Jesu Academy
Maxwell Conway, De Smet Jesuit High School
Emily Noonan, Duchesne High School
Zoe Webster, Incarnate Word Academy
Brianna Chandler, Nerinx Hall
Sophia Vaccaro, Notre Dame High School
Alexis Robles, Rosati-Kain High School
Nicholas Bone, St. Dominic High School
Audrey Baumstark, St. Francis Borgia Regional High School
Ethan Bopp, St. John Vianney High School
Maggie Hannick, St. Joseph’s Academy
Connor Hanzlik, St. Louis Priory School
Austin Sexton-Warner, St. Louis University High School
Justin White, St. Mary’s High School
Emily Chavez-Cortes, Trinity Catholic High School
Anna Gonsalves, Ursuline Academy
Alivia Bauman, Valle Catholic High School
Clare Eisenbeis, Villa Duchesne
Justin Goeke, All Saints Parish in St. Peters
Madeline Stewart, Assumption Parish in O’Fallon
Hallie Schlereth, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Ferguson
Jared Hallahan, St. Alban Roe Parish in Wildwood
Jasmine DuMaine, St. Alphonsus Liguori in St. Louis
Andrea Lowe, St. Elizabeth Mother of John the Baptist Parish in St. Louis
Lacci Gibbar, St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Perryville
43rd annual Mass for the Preservation of Peace and Justice
WHAT: The Mass commemorates the birth and legacy of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
WHEN: 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 20
WHERE: Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, Lindell Boulevard and Newstead Avenue
MORE INFO: Archbishop
Robert J. Carlson will be the main celebrant; Father Art Cavitt of the
St. Charles Lwanga Center will be the homilist. A reception and awards
ceremony for the 2019 Model of Justice honorees will take place after
Mass in Boland Hall. For more information, call the St. Charles Lwanga
Center at (314) 367-7929.