I’ve gotten used to sleeping in my own bed again (a step up from the Fullington bus seat) and have better digested the whirlwind that was our Civil Rights tour. I’ll admit: it was a lot to process.
Earlier this trip, I wrote about our understanding of the past. It’s true that we can never actually know what people went through in the fight for civil, human rights. But what I’ve realized through our experiential learning, our looking into the eyes of people who lived it, is that history still has a heartbeat. It’s alive and breathing today. I mentioned a fear of fading and taking indelibility for granted; but, honestly, these lessons are part of me now.
I’ve collected my thoughts and chosen my favorite takeaways to share in retrospect:
1) Segregation derives from a sort of fear, conscious or not. It’s transcended history, entrenched in the minds of many (not just in the South). The nucleus of segregation has been and remains the fear of interracial mixing. This is hard for me to accept in 2014, as we witness different forms of social progress’ taking place across the U.S. Some states have legalized same-sex marriage, while others maintain areas distinguished by de facto segregation. Until 2000, citizens in Selma wore campaign buttons that said “never,” as in never integrate. When a black mayor was finally elected that year, there was the “White Flight”: 10,000 white people left the city in protest. That’s how deep this fear goes into the new millennium. It holds places like Selma in an eternal 1965. And Selma’s history is still heavy; I needed some alone time to shake my tears and stomachache after watching footage of Bloody Sunday. But our trip was fortunate enough to view the city through a lens of light with the Freedom Foundation. We were lucky. This brings me to my next takeaway...
2) Apathy is lethal. I think the hardest thing for moving forward and away from our history of fear and hate will be countering apathy. It’s been a defense mechanism for so long in the South and across the nation; now, it’s almost innate. It’s so, so much easier not to care. Not everyone is in a position that they get to see this hope. In Selma today, there’s a lot of apathy. The voting rate of youth is in the gutter, and citizens don’t congregate for mass movements like those of the 60s. Our class was able to be ignited to want change as we visited there because we’re outsiders. But when social and economic disadvantage are so deeply rooted and often intentional, it can feel pointless to hold on to potential and possibility — hope, really.
But you absolutely have to hold this hope. I don’t see how you can keep on living without it. When you come across places that breathe darkness and pain, you have to bring life to them. We’re obligated to ourselves and to others. I think that’s why I couldn’t stand to be in Montgomery. It felt absolutely lifeless to me. After talking to the president of the Freedom Foundation for a while, I finally came out and asked, “Gwen, why don’t I hate it here?” She explained that her group has brought that light and hope to Selma. We saw the beacon of hope through the Selma Community Center with RATCo and the Freedom Foundation, and that's what I want to shine in the future.
I feel privileged (in the best sense of the word) to have gotten a crash course on what’s really happening in America today. Not everyone gets to see firsthand the reality that permeates much more than the South. Of course, Montgomery and Selma are more extreme case studies given their heavy histories, but, when we look for similarities closer to home, it’s often unsettling. I'm now motivated — no, called — to be a force for the change I want to see for the U.S. And, with hope in my mind, that's exciting.