Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Thoughts on Atlanta and Birmingham

This has been quite a journey. We have been through Atlanta, Birmingham, Montgomery, and today we were in Selma. There has been so much information and so many emotions that I haven't been able go really sit down and process everything but I'm going to try. Fair warning: this blog post is going to be a little long because I haven't blogged yet. A little background first: I am a Hall Director at UWEC and have the privilege of joining the CRP for my project as a Leadership Fellow through the Division of Student Affairs. I am a UWEC alum and have some educational, personal, and professional experiences working for social justice issues. I am also sitting in on the WMNS 222 Travel Seminar so before we began the pilgrimage I thought I had a pretty good foundation for what was to come. In reality, I had no idea what I was in for. The past four days have been life changing. I am going to share a few takeaways from each day and one question or challenge that was posed to me for you to contemplate as you follow along on this journey.

In Atlanta we had the privilege of hearing from Mr. Charles Person who was one of the brave freedom riders. When reading about the freedom rides I wondered how people got up the courage to face the possible, and in Mr. Persons case, inevitable violence they faced by choosing to take those rides. What I hadn't considered was what was behind the violence. Mr. Person shed light on something even worse than the physical violence. He said the worst thing about it was how the attackers faces contorted with hatred. Contorted with hatred. To know that someone, a stranger, could have so much hatred toward you that you can see it in their face makes me understand a little better why so many brave people chose to participate in the freedom rides.

Two other pieces of wisdom that Mr. Person shared were:
"We were not fighting people, we were fighting a system...trying to break down an institution."
"Change starts with young people always...they have new ideas, fresh ideas."

The challenge that Mr. Person asked, and I ask you is "would you, could you, will you get on the bus?" I commit to challenging injustice and taking action to gain equal rights in one of today's civil rights struggles - equal rights to marriage. I am getting on the bus. Will you?

After Atlanta we journeyed to Birmingham. We were able to witness history in Birmingham. After taking some time to walk down Auburn Avenue and see the house that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born and touring the MLK historical sites, we attended a service at the Ebeneezer Baptist Church. They were celebrating their 126th anniversary and we heard from Christine King Ferris, Dr. King's sister. Earlier that day I had seen a picture of the King family and wondered why you never hear about Dr. King's siblings so you can imagine my delight when Christine King Ferris was introduced. She shared that she believes young people today are benefitting from the Civil Rights Movement without having to learn about it. She emphasized the importance of "sharing our story". What a simple, yet complex challenge. I commit to continuing my own quest for knowledge and to sharing the stories shared on this pilgrimage with others. Will you take on that challenge?

I will write about Montgomery and Selma tomorrow on our way to New Orleans! Thank you for joining us on this journey!

-Marissa Wolfe

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