Posts Tagged ‘ Day 9 ’
By Jason McGaughey
I have long felt trapped within the confines of my own mind, fearing that when I open my mouth and expose who I truly am, I will inevitably be rejected. Such anxiety has not been all bad for me though. I think that there is something about experiencing life as an observer that has helped me remove myself from my own lived experience to attempt to understand life from the vantage point of the theoretical “other.” This has given me the freedom to question the most deeply held of all of our national beliefs: that we live in a free and equal society. I can honestly say that I do not believe we truly do.
Would a truly free society have the world’s highest prison population that is based upon a racist justice system? Would a truly free society call a human being illegal for entering this nation to escape systemic problems created by this nation’s corporate interest? Would a truly free society cut the triumphs of workers’ struggle that our ancestors fought so hard for? Would a truly free society push neoliberal trade policies that exploit working people around the world? Would a truly free society continue to ostracize people simply because of their sexual orientation? Would a truly free society continue to waste the world’s natural resources to perpetuate a lifestyle that is killing the planet? Would a truly free society continue to cut funding for the education of our nation’s youth? Would a truly free society continue to pursue an imperial foreign policy that is killing countless people around the world, and to be so inhumane to not even acknowledge how it is based upon hysteria about other religions and cultures? Would a truly free society be able to continue to perpetuate such inequalities, and have the audacity to not even acknowledge how they are based on racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, classism, and homophobia?
The narrative we tell ourselves is built upon illusions. Meaning that we are all too often taught our history through a lens of historical amnesia. We do not recount the whole story of the horror of our past, nor do we remember the full story of how people have come together to collectively fight against oppressive systems throughout that same history. The truth of our history is a duality. By not knowing our past nor recognizing our present, we perpetuate a system that creates and solidifies structural violence and institutionalized racism.
This trip has re-cemented my commitment to the movement. It is all too easy for me to stay quiet, to not speak truth to power, to not plead with others to come to recognize the way in which oppression is built into the very structural fabric of our society. This journey has been an intellectual, spiritual and relational rebirth for me. To learn about the struggles of the past from civil rights heroes in such an intimate manner has been beyond inspirational. Then to have this intimacy coupled and magnified by sharing it with other young activists brought tears to my eyes on multiple occasions. The conversations that I have had with my peers, where we learn and share so deeply with each other our lived experiences of struggle has been nothing short of the foundations of revolutionary theory. We are creating within one another a revolution of values. We are coming to see our unity and how it is through this weapon of togetherness that we will be able to fight back against such a large and terrifying macro system of exploitation. The system is simply too big and too powerful to take on by ourselves. Though, through the higher power of solidarity we can come together as the masses to be able to truly create a nation for, of, and by the people. Only then is there any real hope that we can create a truly free and equal society not built upon systems of exploitation. We must dream big and not loose hope. Without hope we are lost. This trip has helped me regain my sense of hope, and I am grateful for that. Long live the civil rights revolution and the hope that it teaches us all.
By Marshall Houston
I don’t have an “issue.” I don’t have any specific cause that dominates my thinking. I’ve struggled during this experience to be an “activist” because I’m not one—or at least not an “Activist” with a capital “A.”
I’ll probably never be an expert on any topic, but I believe that I can play a role—a unique role—in developing a deep commitment to human dignity and the empowerment of all people in society.
At best, I am a connector and sharer of ideas, knowledge, and strategies; at worst, I’m someone who loves people and good stories. I’ve embraced this role during my time as an undergraduate, and it has helped me on this ride.
Now that I’ve been on the bus for nearly ten days, I realize more than ever that it will take a comprehensive and unified effort of individuals working for the same general cause—the dignity and rights of all people—to move closer to the Beloved Community.
I understand that the path to the Beloved Community is a journey similar to a climber struggling up a mountain, step by step, with a fog clouding the line of sight up to the mountaintop. The climber can’t see the destination but, by looking back, sees that the view has never been better or as high.
All we can do is work together to continue taking forward step after forward step, no matter how small or difficult.
Though I lack an “issue,” three principles frame the way in which I look at the world, and by extension, the steps that I take.
1. I believe collaboration is innovation.
Innovation in this sense focuses on ideas coming from the collaborative efforts of a cognitively diverse group. By creating a space for free discourse that is rooted in dignity and equality, unexpected ideas emerge and lead to innovation.
2. I believe in the power of the human possible.
This means that each and every person has the ability to positively and uniquely contribute in society, and once individuals are enabled and ennobled to discover and utilize these talents, the possibilities are endless.
3. I believe we need community problem-solving in a spirit of creative entrepreneurship.
Community problem-solving stresses the impact that a group of individuals can have on society using resourcefulness, perseverance, and dedication. Creativity is not confined to the arts, and entrepreneurship is more than just for-profit businesses. Combined together in this spirit, people will approach problems with a belief that they can create something—anything—that improves society.
These three principles are my “issues” in life, and I am confident that the Beloved Community will emerge from a commitment to these ideals.
By Diana Mahoney
They still take my breath away. I thought that by now, I’d have become immune, desensitized, overexposed. Day after day, wandering through galleries, hearing stories, gazing at blatantly honest photographs. Mangled human bodies, bloody beatings and people bent over, sobs wracking their entire frame.
I can’t understand the Rwandan Genocide. Or the Holocaust. Or the Klu Klux Klan. Stories like that of Emmett Till, haunting, chipping away at my desire to believe in the goodness of humanity. Glossy photographs of brutal police beating based on skin tone, shattered glass reflecting the bloodied face of Jim Peck, black and white film reels capturing forever the cruelty we as human beings are indeed capable of.
Once upon a time, in what would come to be remembered as one of the most horrific moments of humanity, a young girl scribbled out a sentence which would come to be remembered and repeated for decades.
“Despite everything, I believe that people really are good at heart.” Anne Frank’s infamous quote echoes through the Holocaust and into the years following. With hints of naivety and hope, she voices an idea that I can’t help secretly, yet desperately wanting to believe is true. And then I switch on the television. Or pick up the newspaper. Child soldiers. Human trafficking. Domestic violence. Inhumanity so beyond my comprehension, so polar opposite to the world both Anne and I want to believe in.
Sitting in the dark church, watching the Freedom Riders documentary for a second time, I feel my breath catch. Because I’ve met these people, ate with these people, laughed with these people, received hugs from these people. No longer are they simply characters in a story that inspires me. Flesh, blood, memories, families and stories… they’re real.
Photographs flash across the screen of people armed with clubs and hate, and images of people I shared heaping plates of steaming spaghetti with mere hours ago. I suck in my breath and try to make out their facial expressions in the dark room, try to comprehend how people can commit these atrocities against other human beings.
Later that night, after trading in the business casual look for t-shirts and gym shorts, a few of us sprawl out on one of the large hotel beds. One in the morning seems the ideal time to discuss Communism, Eminem, and reoccurring dreams.
“In Chinese culture, the perfect number is nine. Because if you reach ten, you’ve peaked, it’s a downward slope from there. Thus, nine is the perfect number because it means that there is room for growth,” Zilong, an exchange student from China, explains.
Nine. It’s the reason that each and every one of the forty of us have gotten on this bus. Nine gives us hope, that there is still space left to make a difference, space to grow. Nine hints at possibility, reminding us that we still have new heights to reach, something to strive for. That amidst all the horrific things that have been and that are, a space is created. A space full of hope, full of possibility. An avenue for humanity to begin picking up the broken pieces and begin piecing them together in a step towards redemption.
“It’s not a safe space, it’s a brave space… step up and step out.” said someone in our group as we sat around on tiny, multi-colored plastic chairs during a discussion on race. I couldn’t agree more. The world isn’t a safe space.
Be brave. I find myself repeating it back to myself constantly. I can’t understand the inhumanity, the violence. And perhaps, in some way, I’m not meant to. Nine. There’s still work to be done, risks to be taken, people worth believing in, potential. Nine. We haven’t peaked yet.
By Sarah Cheshire
We walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge two-by-two, in silence. It is a tranquil Sunday morning—the water rumbles underneath us, the sun has just begun to permeate the thin layer of clouds above, and a gentle breeze ripples the Spanish moss dangling from the trees. In about an hour, the city streets will begin to swell with people, mingling and filing into the churches. But now, the sounds of the city are gentle and muted. It is hard to believe that 46 years ago, at this spot, on a Sunday like today, rows of silent marchers were confronted by uniformed men on horseback, flaunting clubs and bearing teargas.
When the only human sounds I hear are the cars purring past and the thud-thud-thud of our footfalls, hitting the pavement almost in unison, itʼs hard to imagine the cries of the marchers as they retreated into the sanctuary of the church, bruised and battered and bloodied.
Last night, I was talking to an elderly woman while waiting in line for the bathroom at the First Baptist Church in Montgomery, where in May of 1961, a mob of angry klansmen threatened a group of peacefully assembled church goers and Freedom Riders. The womanʼs husband was in the church that night. She was at home down the street with their newborn baby. “I thought I was gonna lose him right then and there,” the woman said of her husband. “Iʼll tell you, I was so scared.”
Being at First Baptist on a blue-skied day, laughing and conversing with friends from every background, nationality, and cultural context, itʼs hard to imagine that kind of fear.
At the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, in a dimly lit room containing the carcass of a greyhound bus and footage of the original Freedom Riders, I see an interview with Jim Zwerg, the Freedom Rider who, in that city in 1961, volunteered to be the first to step off of the bus in and into the hands of an irate mob. In the video, he is lying on a hospital bed, his face gaunt against the white pillow, bearing the marks of a brutal beating. I look behind me and see the real Jim Zwerg, who has joined us for the day.
“Were you afraid?” I ask him. “No,” he says, “no. I knew I was going to die.”
When my own fights have been subtle, and my actions removed from the immediacy of the issues at stake, itʼs hard to imagine this kind of courage.
There is an aura of peace to these places— the churches we visit, the bridges we cross, the back roads we travel down. At the surface, all seems to be at rest. The beatings, the slurs, the fear, the courage, seem unfathomable, like they occurred at a time and a place so detached from the present. But if I listen hard enough, I can hear whispers of the past— faint, like a gust of wind or a muted footfall.
At the 16th Street Baptist Church, where 43 years ago, on a Sunday like today, a klan bomb killed four young girls as they were changing in the bathroom for service, we listen as the Carleton Reese Memorial Unity Choir sings songs about freedom, clapping their hands together and swaying back and forth.
Carved into the base of the offering table, I notice the strong yet subtle words:
This do in remembrance of me.
By Rajlakshmi De
Tell me a story, from the heart.
We stopped in Selma, Alabama today and heard from Mrs. O’Neill, a community member who was active during the civil rights era. The first few minutes of our session with her were very formal and factual, but as we progressed, Mrs. O’Neill answered our questions with increasing insight. The more trust we built, the deeper she delved.
The economic situation is bleak, she said. Races have segregated into separate churches, separate schools. Being ostracized is a concern.
I was really moved by her descriptions of present-day disparities, and was also compelled by how her openness was such an integral component of our understanding of Selma.
How often are we open and honest about the current state of situations? How much are we withholding?
When I think of poverty, I don’t think of a statistic. I think of the frail men who cart me around in rikshas, tensing their leg muscles as they peddle me along, so that I may pay them less than a dollar’s worth of currency. I think of how tempting it is to overpay them. I also think of how that would do little to reduce systemic poverty.
When I think of girls’ empowerment, I don’t think of the illiteracy rate or the prevalence of HIV. I think of stories—of gender roles, of oppressive environments, of strong women.
If society is not engaged in world affairs, in civics, in the future, maybe we could all benefit from more genuine conversations, more storytelling from the heart. I am hopeful that we can make progress, but we need a reason to care.