Monthly Archives: April 2019

Middle School-Alabama Odyssey – Day 7

Meet Sheryl Threadgill and other participants of the Voting Rights Movement
in Wilcox County at the historic Antioch Baptist Church.
Shoe Store Museum
Miss Kitty’s Restaurant in Camden for lunch,
Black Belt Treasures, Shoe Store Museum
Conversation with the BAMA Kids
Take the ferry from Camden to Gees Bend
Evening of poetry, song with Ms Afriye We-kandodis
at By the River Center for Humanity

It was great to hear the stories of the foot soldiers and it reminded me so much that the unseen people make the most difference. Not all the famous people control the entire thing. Someone later said “you don’t need a reality tv show, but you can still make change.” Where will I go? Will I be a foot soldier?

The Shoe Store Museum told a story that I have not yet encountered on this trip. The many quilts, toys, books, dresses, etc. were so present and cared for that I fell in love with the place. It reminded me in many ways of The Bush, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s house in Concord which we visited earlier this year. It is cared for by the ancestor of people recognized, like Betty and her sister’s grandmother who was the president of the Quilting Bee in Gee’s Bend just a few generations ago.

Throughout this trip I have made a change. I feel like I connected to so many people through my questions and comments. I have started to really want to make change.

I really enjoyed talking to the BAMA kids because I really haven’t learned first hand how a public school looks like, especially not one that has a majority of black students. They almost seemed unaware of it. I may not really know but my guess is that the schools are basically completely segregated. It really struck me how little history the kids seemed to be learning. I feel that it’s important to know history so that we don’t make the same mistakes again.

I was surprised and felt bad that I was learning about their (the BAMA kids) history when we both should be learning about it. Just because I am white means that I get so many opportunities. Is that fair? Do I deserve it more than others? What did I do differently? Why are we treated so different? Who said it was fair that my family went to college and the girl we spoke to has uncle’s who went to jail? These kinds of things change us into who we are so, in the end, I think that’s what divides us.

They led us in their 21st Century Leader pledge. This was the time I felt most connected and also very empowered. I also felt I could begin to grasp what impact the BAMA Kids have.

This evening we visited Ms. Afriye We-kandodis and shared our songs, poetry, and speeches. She did a few of her own. Though we didn’t exchange many words with Ms. Afriye, she welcomed us with open arms into her workshop. As she has us recite a vow of self-love, I felt a powerful sense of belonging. That for me was a minute of true happiness. I needed nothing else but to be loved like that everywhere I went. I knew that I needed to love everyone else the same.

I don’t want to leave. The sun is warm here. My voice is strong and my eyes have just started opening. How can I leave this behind? I am afraid if it is not stuffed in my face, I will forget these little pieces of understanding. I will forget the things that make me want to be better.

Spending time with the BAMA Kids
Singing at By the River Center for Humanity
Marian sings her song at By the River Center for Humanity
We sing and move with Afriye We-kandodis

Middle School – Alabama Odyssey – Day 6

Day in Montgomery
Legacy Museum
National Memorial for Peace and Justice
Lunch – Filet and Vine
SPLC Memorial
Alabama Statehouse
Equal Justice Initiative
Dinner at Martha’s Place
Retire to 1412 Water Avenue

The Memorial to the Confederacy at the State House was a beautiful place, but thinking of what happened there angered me. So many people with hatred in their hearts stood in the same places as me, but also justice fighters. So I was conflicted.

Embarrassed is not probably what most people would feel, but that is how I felt at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. I felt that because I couldn’t help myself from thinking that one of my ancestors might have been there and didn’t put a stop to it. Then I started to wonder, if I was there, would I be too afraid to try to stop it, or how would I even stop it. Talking to Eliot really helped me make the connection that what they want is for these 4000+ people to be remembered. And that is what I can do.

There were so many names, too many names, and so many monuments. Walking through the monuments at first was easier physically to look at, but as I kept walking, I had to look up. It became more overwhelming by the second. All of these people died hanging, and I was looking at their memory.

There were a lot of times today that I felt very sad. I saw the monuments and the names and I feel that now I’ve seen it, it is realer than ever before. How could our country do such devastating actions?

When we entered [The Legacy Museum] there were a set of videos of people behind bars. What struck me was that at one end there was a women calling for her children, a boy and a girl. At the end of the hall were a girl and a boy, looking for their mama. I wanted so desperately to connect these people.

How Dare I

A burgundy casket hung
A life taker forgotten
How dare I stand upon this ground of so many bodies
And breath the breaths of so many sisters

How dare I forget the faceless names
And meaningless faces
Every Martin Johnson
And Lewis Martin

As the metallic tears stream down
Her face
How dare I?

After a day full of essential but difficult experiences we just needed a romp

Middle School – Alabama Odyssey – Day 5

Church service at Ye Shall Know the Truth Baptist Church
– Reverend Clinton Pettway
Picnic with Mary Lee Bendolph and the folks of Gee’s Bend.
Visit with Charlie Lucas
Retire to 1412 Water Avenue

Breaking down the walls of separation, two communities came together and sang one song. We sang, clapped, cheered, and prayed like we had done it for 100 years.

The service at Ye Shall Know The Truth Baptist Church was beautiful. I really felt the small-town love and history there. I even could feel the Hilltop Middle School’s history there which, though I know that so many other classes have visited Brown Chapel, Kelly Ingram Park, etc., we belonged there.

The picnic was so nice. Being able to go from not knowing anything about each other and no way alike in living to friends in one afternoon is great. It was a nice day to play, chill, and talk and be ourselves. But what you also have to realize, they don’t have it good like us. Although I didn’t play basketball, it seemed like a great way to connect all together. It made me feel a little of what it is like to live in Alabama.

At the picnic, all the kids our age and younger were kind, too. It really makes me think of how different our cultures are. I started having a really nice conversation with one of them and they are all just normal kids like us but they all seemed a bit nicer.

I have been to church services before but nothing like this. I was just so amazed how they were so free form and interested in what we wrote and wanted to take the time to listen to us. How all of them hugged us, even though they didn’t know us. I felt really welcomed and comforted. I have never had someone just come up and hug me and say “God Bless.” I felt love that I have never felt before. It was magical.

I remember a kindness that radiated off of the people. It made me smile. Not an ordinary smile but a smile that was so big, my face couldn’t hold it.

When Kayla, one of the girls closer to our age, was pulling us around and talking about boys, and I was playing “McDonalds” with Lauren, a four year old, I felt race melt away a little bit. She asked me if I wanted to be friends and she was a loud, cute little lady. I hope all those kids grow up to be what they aspire to be.

Going to Charlie’s was THE BEST THING THAT I’VE DONE IN SO LONG. It’s like my dreams in a shop and a man, to have 10 cars, all fast and exotic, is the best thing I could do. I would LOVE to come down here for the summer and fix up one of those cars. I can’t imagine anything that could top that experience.

Middle School – Alabama Odyssey – Day 4

Breakfast at 1412 Water Avenue
Brown Chapel
Charlie Lucas’s studio
History Maker’s lunch with Lynda Blackmon Lowery
Journeys for the Soul with Joanne Bland
Dinner at Healing Waters Retreat Center
and a visit with Dr. Bernard Lafayette.
Retire to 1412 Water Avenue

I thought that the time we had at Brown Chapel was just so amazing. I thought the presentation we got there was so great and although I was filming, I was able to really enjoy the speeches. I thought that some of the best speeches yet were done there. Ana’s especially was so great. To see her get so out of her comfort zone and really transform.

Their voices echoed off the walls as we sat in the pews they once had years ago. Brown Chapel holds the determination of thousands of people inside it. Lynda told her story, recalling that same determination. Her sister, Joanne, made us reach into the pool of thinking and try to grasp concepts of racism. She made me realize things I hadn’t thought of before.

Ms. Lynda Blackman Lowery’s speech reminded me of Selma, Lord, Selma. The fact that she turned 15 during the march made her story even better because she probably wanted to be with her family on her birthday, but she needed to be there. She needed to march. She needed to make a difference.

The talk with Lynda was really fun, moving, and powerful, and I now have her signed book! It’s really cool getting to hear about the same moments from a bunch of different people.

They believe in us. They all believe in us so much. “We are the future.” “We need to bring our planet back.” These words have been resinating in me since our first stop at Bethel Baptist Church. Today we spoke to Joanne Bland. She was determined to make us believe we were worth something and we were the leaders.

As I was holding my rock [from Joanne Bland], I started to appreciate how much history was right there in my hand. When I get home, I’m going to find a clear case to put it in, so I can see it every day.

It was so amazing and kind of weird to meet a person [Dr. Lafayette] who I had studied so intensely for the past three months. His presence in the room made chills run down my spine, even though he was so kind. I gave my speech for him, and I think it went OK. He gave me hope for the future, and talked about the future of nonviolence and his work. I learned many things I didn’t even know about him. I just feel intoxicated by the time I spent with him.

We Cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge
Such a thrill to talk with Dr. Lafayette and so extraordinary to have him lead us in song

Middle School – Alabama Odyssey – Day 3

Sorry for the delay-Internet has been a little sporadic ….but now in full color!

Breakfast at Hargis
Meet with LaQuita Middleton Holmes
and Children’s March participants Janice Kelsey at the Bethel Baptist Church
Confederate Memorial Park
On to Selma
Dinner with our hosts – Selma Center for Nonviolence, Truth, and Reconciliation
at Healing Waters Retreat Center.
Retire to 1412 Water Avenue

Even though we spent much of today in the car, it felt extraordinarily full with extraordinary people and places. The morning at Bethel Baptist Church was impossible to describe. LaQuita’s power and emotion overwhelmed me. I was moved to tears by her poem about lynching and am very grateful that she drove all the way from Texas to be with us.

You could hear her voice before she even appeared. It was a voice saying words that together made something so much more than any reading ever could. She started singing of Emmett Till and lynching. Starting with a poem with so much emotion you need to almost turn away. Within three minutes, she had cried, laughed, yelled, and whispered.

Janice Kelsey came in and talked to us. She had taken part in the Children’s March and shared her experiences with us. She was also funny as heck. I thought it was interesting how she told us that she was just a normal teenager during the movement but had joined and made a huge difference. I wonder how that can happen with climate change and if the youth can really stand up. Will it be the cool thing to do?

The Confederate Memorial Park was helpful in knowing more about the confederacy and completing the story. It was not too pushy except for the gift shop. Seeing an African American fighting involuntarily with the confederacy was very maddening. He did not look at all happy and he was standing right behind his master.

LaQuita Middleton-Holmes made a very strong impression with her powerful spoken word and sung poems. She travelled 16 hours from Texas to share with us.

Middle School – Alabama Odyssey – Day 2

Breakfast at Hargis
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
Kelly Ingram Park
Lunch – Zoes Kitchen
16th Street Baptist Church
Joe Minter –“Africa in America”
Dinner at Dreamland
Back to Hargis

After we left Hargis, I though the park (Kelley Ingram) was really interesting. But once we got to the museum (The Civil Rights Institute) I was fascinated. I thought that the imagery was intense, but essential in this study.

I was especially touched earlier this morning to see a bronze model of Coretta Scott King. Learning about her and reading her writing for the past few months has made me feel close to her and perk up every time I hear her name. They statue made me think of the portrait I made of her, and I was at that moment so proud to have her represented both at the Civil Rights Institute and in Brattleboro.

When I had first learned about the four girls who died at 16th Street Baptist Church, I wasn’t thinking about it too much. But today was the day it struck me; four children where murdered out of cold blood in the basement of the church. They had had friends, friends. And while they were in the basement of 16th Street, the bomb went off, ending their lives.

At first glance, it’s just an old crazy man with a whole bunch of roadside garbage. But a closer look reveals that every piece of his has a meaning, a purpose. Joe is not crazy (maybe a little bit), he just is happy. He had a glint of joy in his eyes, and I knew us being there made his day.

I want to work on feeling more comfortable with the people we are meeting. Everyone has been so nice and welcoming, but I haven’t really welcomed them. Like today, Joe Minter said something funny, and he was laughing, and his laugh is unlike anything I have heard, and it made me feel so welcomed. Myself, though, I had a hard time laughing, even though I thought it was funny. Now I wonder if I shared my laugh, would he have felt even more comfortable, and then we could have even more special moments and conversation?

I realized I am so aware of how I act around black people here. I’m always overthinking how I act, and if I’m seeming privileged, or something. I think I’m just being parinoid, but it’s uncomfortable always worrying if I’m doing something wrong.

A million foot soldiers
To hold up
Stop looking
Through the glass
Look at them
They spoke, too
They marched, too
They died, too
They held you
Thank them, too.

Joe Minter’s “African Village in America”

Middle School – Alabama Odyssey – Day 1

We Fly
Meet with Reverend Thomas Wilder and Dr. Martha Bouyer
at the Historic Bethel Baptist Church.
Dinner catered at the new Bethel Baptist Church
Retire to YMCA Hargis Retreat Center

My focus and perception of my surrounding has changed and I am now noticing every detail that sticks out from the white travelers and black staff (at the airport) to how we have been treated so far. I am extremely ready for the focus I am to give on this trip and so excited for what is to come.

When I handed Dr. Martha Bouyer the syrup and thanked her, she just gave me a big hug. I can’t really describe what I felt in that moment, but I kind of feel like our thoughts and emotions passed to each other in that second. It is amazing how much a hug can do.

During the singing at the old Bethel Baptist Church, I was overcome with emotion. I don’t know exactly what I was feeling and how to process it. It felt like coming to Alabama, just being here after all our class has done to prepare, was important. Like there was a purpose for me being here in all my youth and whiteness.

The most profound thing is being at historical Bethel Baptist Church and seeing the place where Reverend Shuttlesworth fought for civil rights. Standing at the pulpit was just amazing even if I was a bit nervous.

It’s all been very surreal. From driving around the neighborhoods to talking to the folks inhabiting them, it seems like my privilege is ever present. Questions like why is our community not donating to such poverty-plagued societies, how am I contributing to this? When will equality in our races finally be acknowledged?

As I reflected about today, I noticed how different it was inside versus outside the church (Bethel Baptist). Inside it felt like history, a safe haven to escape. Outside I saw a different history, the story of segregation, the history of the marches to freedom.

Singing at Historic Bethe Baptist Church