By Alicia Skeeter
There have been two actions that I have been examining over the freedom ride: to hope and to forgive. Hope and forgiveness have been exposed to me in real and piercing ways over the freedom ride, the past two days especially. I want to understand these two things and gain a greater perspective on them. This experience is providing me the space to do that.
The 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama embodies what it means to hope. When we visited there, this is all I could think: How could the people of the church and community continue to move forward after being bombed and after four of the congregation’s children were murdered? I couldn’t and still don’t understand that strength, that courage to hope. To hope is to say that things are going to get better. I know if I were a part of that church, it would have been very difficult to have those same emotions and same actions.
During our visit we met some church members and listened to the Carlton Reese Memorial Unity Choir share testimonies and songs of hope and of freedom. In their church, one of their stained glass windows is called the Wales Window. This window is a very powerful piece of art that is a visual expression of what hoping and forgiving really looks like. The Wales Window is a picture of a man with his arms spread wide, one hand pushing away and one hand open, in a receiving position. The hand pushing away is supposed to represent the fight to overcome oppression. The receiving hand is open to welcome forgiveness and love. The 16th Street Baptist Church is hope; the 16th Street Baptist Church is forgiveness.
Another way these actions of hope and forgiveness have been presented in a very real way during this ride was through Jim Zwerg’s talk on nonviolence. He was an original Freedom Rider who was hospitalized because he was beaten so severely, and never returned to the Rides because of his injuries. He has such a gentle spirit. I especially recognized this spirit in the way that he talks – his speech is a reflection on how peaceful he is because he is forgiving. Jim Zwerg is forgiveness. He told us that while people were beating him, he was praying for them and forgiving them. Who does that? How? These are the questions I will continue to ask. I will look to the 16th Street Baptist Church when I need a reminder of what it means to hope. I will look to Jim Zwerg’s story when I forget what it means to truly be forgiving.