My mom picked me up at the airport when I returned from the Social Justice Pilgrimage put together by Grace Presbytery. Turns out she had no idea what exactly I had gone to experience, or, more importantly, why, as evidenced by her question to me: “We knew all these things had happened (presumably protest marches, lynching, Jim Crow…?); has something new happened that changed all that?”
“No, Mom. But if you knew all these things, you didn’t teach us (your children) about them, and we didn’t learn about it in school, either. So now I’m learning about it, and this was a part of that learning.”
Work in progress, people.
That’s why I was so grateful to hear about this pilgrimage and even more so when they said I could go along. I learned about the power of place in the early ‘80’s, after visiting the sacred ground of Anne Frank House and Dachau, as well as military cemeteries (both American and German) while stationed overseas.
Beyond the photographs, it was almost as if, by listening closely enough, you could hear the voices of those long silenced; that maybe in the telling or re-telling of their stories, they could eventually find peace.
On this Social Justice journey, one of our leaders, Dr. Marrey Embers gave me words for that experience, and others like it: “If people had to endure these things, I can be a witness.”
It is hard to look at cruelty, violence and hatred; especially when it’s directed against fellow human beings, and the when doesn’t matter. It’s no easier to read about those things in ancient texts than it is to see in photographs or playing out on a television screen. But I promised myself I would not look away; I would be a witness.
In addition to visiting a variety of museums and historical sites along the Civil Rights Trail, we were privileged to have gracious teachers who made themselves vulnerable; opened themselves up to being re-traumatized in sharing their stories so we could learn.
I watched, I read, I listened, I took notes, I asked questions, I took pictures, I conversed with others about our shared experience, I processed…I am processing. And now I testify. I am sharing those things with the hope that in lifting up the stories, others will learn, as I have been.
The truth is hard, but learning it has not done me in. I am free to wrestle with that truth and I may come away with a limp, but I have been blessed; by the creativity and honesty and perseverance of the storytellers. I have been blessed by the journey, the company on the way, the leaders who made the trip possible, and the voices of those long gone, long ignored, long unheard. And I have been blessed by hope; by the work that has been done, is being done, and will be done, in and through pilgrims like me. May God use us all to seek justice for God’s glory.