On July 28 through 30, several cadets from the Independence School District districtwide Army JROTC program, representing all three ISD high schools, stepped back into the past and realized something about their future. For the past several years, First Sergeant-Retired Allen Roberson has chaperoned a contingent of ISD JROTC cadets to participate in the Emancipation and Homecoming festivities and parade in Nicodemus, Kansas.

In 1877, Nicodemus was one of the first all-black settlements established by groups of former slaves at the end of the post-Civil War Reconstruction period. The original settlement was envisioned as a black oasis in the sparsely populated west which would facilitate the westward migration that was taking place across the plains and the expanding country. Nicodemus characterizes the pioneer spirit of African Americans who left the only region they were familiar with in search of personal freedom, personal achievement and ownership.

The students could relate to that statement. When asked what they might have in common with the men and women who settled Nicodemus, they responded, “…those first settlers took what they had learned in bondage and used it to establish a new life of freedom and opportunity for themselves and their family...” That is what is happening for us. In high school we are taught processes to help make decisions, analyze issues, and communicate effectively, said Cadet Travis Reiley. We take the good and bad of what is taught and use it as we move forward in life, also to help ourselves and our family.

The students traveled 6 hours to be a part of this famous homecoming celebration as guests of the small community and the National Park Service. The cadets felt it was all worth it in large part because of the people they met. The student-cadets found the descendants of those settlers to be welcoming, appreciative, and very interested in the cadets’ own life journey. More than one cadet commented they noticed the people of Nicodemus didn’t seem to see skin color. The cadets enjoyed leading the community parade with the Color Guard. After the long, hot parade march the cadets also loved the old fashioned homemade-style lemonade a bit more.

On both counts it was a unanimous decision. Supporting the National Park Service event and the returning descendants and remaining citizens of Nicodemus was something every cadet was willing to do again. One cadet was heard to say, “…its amazing how much life and energy there is left in this old historic town….what grew up here all those years ago is significant to our country’s history and the expansion westward and yet so few people know or understand this story or this part of our history….”

On the trip back home, the students stopped at Fort Hays where they toured that historic frontier outpost made famous by the US Calvary units known as the Buffalo Soldiers. Buffalo Soldier being the name given by native tribes to the US Calvary units made up of black soldiers. These famous segregated military units’ place in and contributions to history, the westward expansion and what is known as the Indian Wars period is only recently beginning to gain the full and detailed attention, study and credit it deserves.

Lieutenant Colonel Mike Byrd, the Senior JROTC Instructor for ISD’s JROTC program said, “..two things I have to comment on here; first is to thank First Sergeant Allen Roberson and Ms. Netty Doyle (chaperone for the female cadets) for making this trip opportunity come alive each summer for a select group of cadet volunteers and second is I am so impressed by the historic irony of all this…we have Army JROTC cadets from Independence, Missouri (where the westward trails began) excited about and willing to explore and study further the contributions of the westward expansion to our nations evolution and development and in that study to discover, recognize and appreciate the under told story of the contributions of minorities to this period of growth in our country and its history. And lastly how significant that the cadets of the Trails West JROTC Battalion are the students interested in exploring this chapter in American history. These student-cadets are just remarkable and such an honor to teach, mentor and serve with.”

In addition, the cadets enjoyed at stop at the Air Combat Museum at Forbes Field in Topeka, Kan., as well. The long educational weekend experience reinforced several Army JROTC curriculum and citizenship education content elements; the importance of history, service to others, respect for diversity and military customs, drill and ceremony.

ISD JROTC cadets who participated were: Kaitlyn Waage, Victoria Major, Autumn Savage, Travis Reiley, Colton Kerr, Maria Monge, Sara West, Archer Lundy and Kevin Carew.