Recently I had the opportunity to travel with my One Degree team to Montgomery, Alabama to experience the Equal Justice Initiative Legacy Museum, the Memorial for Peace and Justice, and tour the historical sites that have been the backdrop for critical cultural movements and initiatives in Alabama and nationwide. The museum houses dynamic displays of interactive storytelling that forced me to immerse myself in the truths of the past in a visceral, somber way.
Taking in the stories and imagery forced me to stand still in the reality of the oppression of my ancestors, and further acknowledge the origins of the generational inequalities that exist today. Pulling on the systemic thread of sanctioned murder and fear tactics designed to keep an entire race of people from experiencing the wholeness that comes from family and stability was a reminder that none of this was by accident. These origins impact people of color in all spaces and hamper achievement in ways often unspoken and unacknowledged. The mental trauma of these experiences and the resulting pathologies about life and survival perpetuate generationally, making it absolutely necessary to be intentional about identifying them and understanding their impact on the perspective of entire communities.
The photo to the left shows the prominent display of soil collected from the earth where men and women were lynched — it brought the past into my immediate present. Reading their names and comprehending that their DNA from the blood shed was still incorporated in the earth ushered in the feeling that I was far less removed from those black bodies than I would have believed. I wondered throughout the day how much of my direct lineage was represented in those containers of reclaimed earth, ironically housed in mason jars so often used to preserve sweet jams and food stuffs. It was as if their spirits were brought back from the dead, proving that despite the killing, lynching, and burning, their essence would defiantly remain. It gave me a sense that time could recycle and restore, and that perhaps the universe will maintain balance by uplifting the lineage of these men and women over the next generation. That perhaps the remnant would one day grow to reclaim the space and dignity it was so viciously denied.
In that large, clear container of soil and sediment so tightly packed, I saw the tiniest green sprout poking through. On top of it were inches of dirt and heavier rock, making the audacity of this tiny sprout’s germination and rise a beautiful rebellion (See below).
Thus is the theme of my people. Beautifully defiant in finding avenues to freedom and joy (with singing, dance, and storytelling) despite horrific oppression and against all odds. Though many years later, pieces of my black history, pride, potential, culture, and legacy that was literally burned and buried is finding its way to light by way of this Equal Justice initiative.
Yet I know we have a long way to go to even the playing field, even as similar tactics of family separation and incarceration impact our brothers and sisters at the border. In echoing Maya Angelou’s “still I rise”, I’m rooting for that tiny sprout in hopes that the work we do in increasing access to resources and empowering the disenfranchised will create fertile ground for lasting change, and with the understanding that it is an uphill battle with no quick fixes but consistent forward movement.