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Monarchs' journey reaches historic bridge in Selma

SELMA, Ala. -- The Anderson Monarchs' civil rights barnstorming tour has entered week two of its 3 1/2-week sojourn, but there are constant reminders about the early stages of the trip.

While every stop along this 4,000-mile trip through the Northeast, Deep South and Midwest bears a special significance, one seems to stand out more than the rest: their visit to Washington, D.C., where they met Rep. John Lewis.

It's not so much because the kids are necessarily politically minded, but because Lewis, the longtime Georgia congressman, was in the middle of many historical events during the early stages of the Civil Rights Movement that the kids are learning about now.

Lewis' name came up more than once on Friday as the Monarchs' bus drove over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. They also talked about him immediately after they walked along the bridge, on the same path that Lewis and 600 peaceful protesters took 50 years ago during the Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches, which were led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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The significance of their walk from one end of the bridge to the other, one that took less than five minutes from start to finish, will likely stay with these kids forever. At least that is the hope of their leader, Monarchs coach Steve Bandura, the orchestrator of this cross-country journey.

"They get it, they really get it," he said. "You could tell they got it when they met with Congressman Lewis. The questions they asked, the interest they showed.

"They're never going to forget this. How could they? Hopefully, they'll bring their kids here someday."

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Bandura's son, Scott, is a Monarchs player and is on this trip with his teammates.

"It's amazing," Scott said. "We got to meet John Lewis at the beginning of the tour, and he led the first march on the bridge. To just relive what he was telling us about is amazing."

Mo'ne Davis, who earlier in the week noted that Lewis met them at the door when they arrived to his office -- "You don't usually see that; usually the assistant greets you at the door" -- recalled asking him how he felt about the movie "Selma," and how he was portrayed.

"He said he watched it six times," Davis said. "I would think it would be hard to watch the movie, but he said he actually really enjoyed it."

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"Selma" is one of several movies the Monarchs watched during their weekly Friday night viewing sessions with Bandura. Every Friday for six weeks, Bandura gathered the kids at the recreational center where they play in Philadelphia and played a different movie or TV show about black history, including "Malcolm X," "Roots" and "Eyes on the Prize," among others.

So when the Monarchs actually arrived to Selma and approached the Pettus Bridge, they were ready.

"I was really excited to come here," Davis said. "It's one of the key points of civil rights. When we got here and when we crossed the bridge, it actually looked the same as from the movie. I was kind of surprised that everything still looked the same. I really enjoyed it."

Said Jahli Hendricks: "Being able to walk that bridge and relive that history was a great feeling."

The group was joined on the "march" by the mayor of Selma, George Patrick Evans. He headed up the group along with Bandura.

"To march with them and be a part of this, I believe, is just as exciting for me as it is for them," Evans said. "Hopefully, they'll keep all this history bagged up with them, boxed up, where they can look back on it 50 years from now and be able to identify the fact that they crossed this bridge with the mayor of Selma and with others, to be a part of what happened here in history 50 years ago."

One of the most important elements, the mayor added, was to be able to in some ways bring to life what the kids had so far only been able to read in books and watch on video.

"Now they can actually draw a line and capture some things that they've seen," Evans said. "They've now witnessed it themselves and they had an opportunity to actually walk across the bridge and have a part of the history-making moment that happened years ago. I think it's so significant that they had a chance to come here and actually themselves be a part of it."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.