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Each year we create a By Invitation Only program as part of our Critical Issues series. We offer it completely free to ensure that the most promising change makers are exposed to the critical issues we believe will shape their generation and cost isn’t a barrier.

Explore the complicated history of race, identity, and collective action in the United States. In a country founded on the principle that all people are created equal, systemic barriers to opportunity persist for people of color. Focusing on the experiences of African Americans, travel south along the East Coast to the Mississippi Delta, taking a hard look at the history of slavery, segregation, and ongoing marginalization of black communities. Study civil rights at the epicenter of the movement, and learn from organizations and individuals making strides in creating equal opportunity for all.

By the end of the program, students will:

  • Understand and appreciate the varied experiences of people of color and the contrasting lived experiences of white people in the United States.
  • Learn about the relationship between history and contemporary challenges related to race in America.
 Examine the impact of race on civic engagement and participation, education, and the criminal justice system in the United States.
  • Recognize their own biases and values and how those relate to issues of race and equality.
  • Develop a framework for creating positive change related to race relations in their own context.

Apply Now

Know a student that might be interested in this program? Click here to nominate them.

Dates listed reflect travel time departing from and returning to the USA. International clients click here.

Program Profile

United States

  • Day 1

    Travel to Philly

    Arrive at Philadelphia International Airport where your Rustic Pathways program leaders eagerly await you. Get to know your group members better over dinner and have an opening discussion before settling in for the night.

  • Day 2 - 3

    Philadelphia and Gettysburg

    Start understanding contradictions between our national values of liberty and freedom and the practice of slavery in the United States during visits to the National Constitution Center and Independence Hall to see the document that established America. Examine how the institution of slavery caused the Civil War during a discussion of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Work together to develop community and establish group norms through purposeful discussions and activities that help create a safe space for what can be sensitive and difficult conversations about race.

  • Day 4 - 7

    Washington and Baltimore

    Explore program themes first looking at their history and then their contemporary implications.

    Visit museums and historical sites, schools and universities, and meet with influential individuals who are working to address issues of racial inequity on a local or national level. Develop an understanding of the influence of race on civic engagement and participation, education, and the criminal justice system in the United States. Nightly discussions and activities help bring greater clarity to how your own experiences and values relate to issues of race and equality.

  • Day 8 - 10

    Birmingham and Selma

    Fly South to Birmingham and feel the weight of recent history in one of the most significant cities and regions of the American Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Learn about the experiences of Southern blacks and their collective action to combat systems of oppression and disenfranchisement at the Civil Rights Institute. Consider the relevance of Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to contemporary movements and to your own values and perspective. Dig into the ongoing challenges faced by communities of color in Alabama and explore the methods being used currently to continue the work during meetings with influential NGOs and local religious leaders.

    Walk the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, the scene of one of the most violent and significant moments of the civil rights era when state troopers viciously attacked a peaceful protest led by John Lewis and others. Consider what it takes to lead change and the role of courage, allies, and community in confronting injustice.

  • Day 11 - 12

    The Mississippi Delta

    Wind your way along the byways of the Mississippi Delta, a fascinating region with rich cultural history contributing to African American and broader American identity through music that has also played a significant role in sparking greater awareness of racism and injustice. Drive through small towns like Tunica, Clarksdale and Greenville and explore the roots of the Delta Blues—the musical expression of hardship, which laid the foundation for modern rock‘n’roll. Connect with the political history of this region, including its role in the civil rights movement and the black mass migration northward in the 20th century, and meet with local leaders in rural and small town communities.

  • Day 13 - 16

    New Orleans

    Perhaps no other place in America represents the mixing of cultures, traditions, and the blending of race and ethnicity better than New Orleans. Consider how Hurricane Katrina reshaped the city, geographically and demographically, and take part in rebuilding efforts alongside a local organization. Delve deeper into the program themes by meeting with school district leaders and parents, criminal defense lawyers and those re-entering life after incarceration, and neighborhood leaders who have been advocates for local control of rebuilding efforts. New Orleans contemporary history offers valuable perspective and insight for us about the ongoing challenges as well as opportunities of improved race relations in America.

  • Day 17

    Homeward Bound

    Recount memories from the program and say goodbye to your new friends before you head home. Use what you’ve learned to take action and make positive change on some of the important issues back in your home communities.

An Important Note About Schedule Changes

Rustic Pathways reserves the right to change, alter, or amend the daily itinerary for this trip at any time. Changes can be made for various reasons including changes in flight or program schedules, changes in the schedules of various external tours incorporated in our trips, the addition of new activities into a trip, or the substitution of an old activity for a new activity.

The itinerary shown here provides a good outline of the anticipated daily schedule for this program. As with any travel program, some changes may occur.

“Optional Activities” are fully included in the cost of your program, but you can choose to not do these activities.

“Add-On Activities” are not included in the cost of your program and must be paid for separately. Add-on activities are rare, but include things like skydiving, bungee jumping, or weekend side-trips. Not every program has add-on activities.

For more information, email usa@rusticpathways.com

Program-Specific FAQs

  • By Invitation Only is an initiative we designed to give future change makers from all backgrounds the opportunity to tackle some of today’s most pressing global issues in real-world context. The program is entirely free of cost to students.

    By progressing through a purposeful curriculum of pre-travel resources paired with travel experiences, activities, and discussions, students will deeply explore an issue relevant to their generation. In doing so, students will further develop skills sets like critical analysis, creative problem solving, collaboration, and empathy––all essential capabilities for future leaders who will make change on the issue.

    As part of our By Invitation Only initiative going forward, each year Rustic Pathways will select between 10 to 15 students to participate in one of our newest Critical Issues programs, entirely free of cost.

  • Yes, it is free for accepted students. Rustic Pathways covers the cost of the program and airfare.

    In addition to covering program fees and airfare, Rustic Pathways will cover visa fees associated with traveling to the United States for international students.

  • We believe that our Critical Issues programs provide students with an unparalleled opportunity to examine global issues in real-world context and start developing creative solutions to those challenges. Each Critical Issues program is designed to inspire students towards action, while helping them develop the skills sets and capabilities necessary to do so. We don’t want cost to prevent anyone from taking advantage of this opportunity, so we’ve removed that barrier.

  • Instead of asking students to cover participation costs, we’re asking them to commit to taking action based on their experience when they return home. This could be volunteering with an organization whose mission aligns with our program concept, making a presentation to a group of students or another organization in the local community to share what they have learned, or writing a piece for the local paper.

    The application for our By Invitation Only program asks students to commit to take action upon their return from Race in America.

  • Great question! We named this initiative By Invitation Only because Rustic Pathways is both inviting nominated students to apply for this program, as well as inviting selected students to participate in one of our Critical Issues programs free of cost.

  • No, students can apply on their own. The nomination form encourages students who might not know about this opportunity to apply. Educators, parents, peers, and family members can nominate a student to apply. To nominate a student, click here.

  • Here’s an example of how it works:

    1. A teacher nominates a student they think would be perfect for this opportunity through the nomination form.
    2. Rustic Pathways reaches out to the nominee and invites them to apply for our By Invitation Only program, Race in America.
    3. The nominee submits their application.
    4. Rustic Pathways reviews all applications and invites up to 15 students to take part in the 2018 By Invitation Only program.
  • The perfect candidate for this program stands out from the crowd, not because they attract attention but because they get things done in their sphere of life. They bring people together. They demonstrate charisma, empathy, grit, and humility. They are the future barrier-breaking innovators and Nobel Peace Prize winners. They are people who are destined to create change in the world. They are natural leaders with a proven history of service in their community or tackling big ideas. For the 2018 program, applicants will need to tell us why they are passionate about issues of race in the United States. Applicants can be Rustic alumni as well as students who have never traveled with us before. You can read more about the students selected last year for Peace, Wonder, and Understanding Islam.

  • Up to 15 students will be invited to participate in this program for 2018.

  • The application for students to be nominated and apply opens on October 17, 2017. The application will close on January 15, 2018. At that point, the RP Critical Issues Committee will begin the application review process. During the last week of January, we will hold Skype interviews with the final candidates for this program. On February 19, 2017, students will be notified about the status of their acceptance. Selected students will have the opportunity to enroll and pre-travel communication and preparation will begin.

  • All students must apply online. The link to the application can be found here. The application is thorough and challenging, requiring forethought and dedication.


A school backpack is ideal.

  • Passport/Photo ID
  • Photocopy of passport
  • Wallet/money
  • Book and/or journal or notebook
  • Pen
  • Phone
  • Camera
  • Chargers
  • Change of clothes
  • Refillable water bottle – Required
  • Medication
  • Visa documentation (if applicable)
  • Consent to Travel form
  • Rustic Pathways Emergency contacts


A 60-70 Liter or less duffel bag, suitcase, or backpack is ideal. Please pack reasonably.


  • Socks (8-10)
  • Underwear (8-10)
  • Pants/Capris/Jeans (2)
  • Shorts (3-4)
  • Long sleeved shirt (1-2)
  • Hoodie/sweatshirt (1)
  • T-shirts (8-10)
  • “Business Casual” outfit for partner meetings in office environments (2-3)
  • Pajamas
  • Swimsuit
  • Towel
  • Rain Jacket
  • Sandals
  • Sneakers
  • Closed-toed shoes or nicer sandals appropriate for partner meetings in office environments.
  • Hat


(travel size containers packed in Ziploc bags)

  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Body wash/Soap
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Deodorant
  • Razor/shaving cream