Encountering Hard Realities
“Have you ever wondered, what would I do if I lived during the civil rights movement?” One student asked the group sitting around the table.
The answer came kindly from our tour guide who replied in the form of another question:
“Well, what are you doing now?”
Last week a group of Grace students and staff embarked on a Civil Rights Bus Tour for their Go Encounter trip. A unique part of the Grace Core, Go Encounter trips empower students to step into new cultures and explore new perspectives–both internationally and here in the states. The Civil Rights Bus Tour is a domestic trip to the south where we encounter the hard realities of our own American history.
The tour included stops at numerous museums, memorials, and churches that symbolize and commemorate the civil rights movement. Along the route, the group met courageous individuals who played integral roles in the movement — undoubtedly one of the most potent aspects of the trip. And anyone who has been on the tour would agree; this isn’t a “come back the same as you were” kind of experience.
The sobering realities of the movement and the peculiar hope of our brothers and sisters of color left our students and staff with a lot on their hearts and minds. Here are some of the takeaways they shared:
Education is an important first step in enacting change.
As a future educator, I know that most of my students will not have the opportunity to visit these places or meet the people you read about in textbooks (or those who aren’t mentioned in textbooks). I hope that I can find ways to apply these real-life learning experiences to my classroom and bring this knowledge to my students. I don’t want to do a simple “I Have a Dream” unit. I want to do an in-depth civil rights unit and re-create the learning experiences from this trip in my classroom. Students need to know more than just the names of these leaders. They need to hear the stories and learn what they did to bring about change.
Expose the narratives that have allowed us as a country to tolerate injustice among people of color.
The Legacy Museum opened my eyes to a broader American History than I remember from my classrooms growing up. I walked through a time capsule starting from the Transatlantic Slave Trade, through the Civil Rights movement, and into the system of injustices in our prisons today. It was at this museum that I started to discover my own white identity and took a deeper dive into my race. Because I am in mostly majority contexts of white people, I forget I have a race and a history. Learning about the superior thinking of whites through our nation’s history empowered me to see the corrupt systems of my ancestors and invited me to do the work of making our nation equal for all…well at least in my spheres.
Kearstin Criswell, Director of Student Involvement
Unity, Unity, Unity.
I thought a lot about the unity of the church throughout the trip. On the first day in Atlanta, we attended Ebenezer Baptist Church, the church Martin Luther King Jr. attended as a young boy. That experience was unlike anything I had experienced before. It made me think about the fact that 11 a.m. on Sunday is the most segregated hour in America. I wonder if this is because Christianity was at times used to justify segregation. I’m not sure the church has fully recovered from that.
You are never too young to stand up for what is right.
I was amazed to find that many participants in the movement were young adults and even children. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his first address in Montgomery at Holt Baptist Church as a 26-year-old. Lynda Lowery, the youngest participant in the march from Selma to Mongomery, celebrated her 15th birthday on the march. Thousands of college students joined the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) as 18-year-olds. It’s easy to think that as I get older I will be cemented in my passions, and then I will serve my role in society. But as these countless individuals modeled, the time to use my voice and speak against injustice is always now — regardless of my age.
There is still work to be done.
No matter how smart or kind I am, in the eyes of the majority, I will always be a second class citizen. It is the anger that comes from this realization that will fuel me to be the change I want to see. We’ve come so far and have so far to go. I owe it to future generations to make a change so that they never have to question the motive of someone in relation to their skin color.
Courage is key.
The trip gave a new definition to the word “courage.” The men and women of the civil rights movement were courageous beyond imagination. Meeting these individuals causes you to ask yourself, how am I being courageous in my life today? I left the bus tour with a deeper and fuller appreciation for biblical courage.
Pick up the mantle.
When you meet people who were a part of the movement and learn that the marches and protests weren’t long ago, you realize that the fight against injustice is still on. It’s easy to say, “It’s awesome that they did that! Great!” And then you go back to your own business. But I learned that we (the next generation) need to pick up the mantle and continue to fight against injustice. Going forward, I want to make sure that I’m doing my part. As a young black man, I’ve developed a deeper respect for what my family members in the past fought for because it has allowed me to live the life I’m living today.
Jalen Williams, junior Graphic Design student
We all have a role to play.
God gave each of us a special gift to use to glorify Him. We met several women who use their unique talents to make a difference; Rutha uses her voice, Sophia uses her cooking, Lisa uses her narrative. It was really made clear that I don’t need to have a specific gift such as public speaking to make a difference. I can make a difference with what God gave me, no matter how unrelated it may seem.
This is the third time representatives from Grace have participated on the tour, and it won’t be the last. Looking forward, we plan to offer this trip more regularly to students, faculty, and staff to continue to shape powerful perspectives on our campus and launch graduates with purposeful lives.
For more information about the Civil Rights Bus Tour, visit ww.messiah.edu/info/22915/civil_rights_bus_tour.