The students from the Coretta Scott King Young Women's Leadership Academy in Atlanta live in one of the geographical centers of the civil rights movement. The Rev. Bernice King, daughter of their school's namesake and Martin Luther King Jr., visits so regularly that the girls call her a big sister.
But even with that exposure, the nine middle- and high-school girls arriving in Washington on Friday morning on Amtrak could barely contain their giggles as they began what will be a historic weekend.
Bernice King and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., former Freedom Rider and one of King's disciples, met the girls on the platform at Union Station to help them start a trip that will include Sunday's dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial. The star-studded four-hour event will feature President Obama, Aretha Franklin and civil rights leaders.
King will escort the girls on a private visit to the $120 million memorial — the first major monument on the National Mall that honors a non-president and African American. And they will visit Lewis' Capitol Hill office, a space full of historic civil rights photos and memorabilia.
"This is an amazing opportunity," said Tamira Johnson, 14, as she raised her shoulders in excitement. "I want to take back to my peers that you may have trials and tribulations, but step up and be a leader."