Day Eight Civil Rights Trip Reflections: Thursday April 18

 Day Eight Civil Rights Trip 2024!
We started our trip home this afternoon, but not until we had the chance to visit Tuskegee, Alabama in the morning. Part of our group visited the Tuskegee Airmen site and were deeply moved and troubled by the stories of discrimination and racism. The Airmen fought 2 wars – those they fought from their airplanes and the one they fought with their own country, who depended on them for military success, but treated them as 2nd class citizens when they came home.
The rest of the group toured Tuskegee University. Two Tuskegee students shared with us about their University and the impact that TU is making on the lives of the 3000 students currently enrolled. We also had the chance to visit the Legacy Museum, which told the story of the Syphilis “study”.
As we make our way home, we‘re still finding it difficult to put into words all that we’ve learned and all that we’ve felt. There will be a lot of processing that needs to happen.
I am convinced again that this is a pilgrimage and journey that as many people as possible should take. And it’s the kind of journey that benefits from a lot of preparation and travelling with others. We’re asking now where God is leading us? What do we do with all that we have learned? And those are questions that we’ll probably have to wait to answer, as we take the time to process all that we’ve learned and experienced.
Thank you for your prayers and support. And thank you for journeying with us.

Day Seven Civil Rights Trip Reflections: Wednesday April 17

Day Seven Civil Rights Trip 2024!

Our full day at the Legacy Museum, Memorial for Peace & Justice, and the recently-opened Legacy Sculpture Memorial. Our day pulled together all that we have been learning from the first forced arrival of enslaved people in the 1600’s to the mass incarceration that continues today, spurred on by racism and racial inequality that continues still today. I don’t think anyone who goes through these museums is ever the same, as we‘re confronted with the most inhumane treatment of fellow human beings. Last year and this year again, I’m inspired and moved by this quote of Maya Angelou: ”History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” We must study and learn the history of our country. Equity, justice and peace can’t come until we face the cruelty forced upon millions of human beings. There were tears in our group today. It was a full, impactful day.
Off to Tuskegee tomorrow morning!

Day Six Civil Rights Trip Reflections: April Tuesday 16

Day Six Civil Rights Trip Reflections 2024!
We spent our day exploring various sites in downtown Montgomery. This included a visit to the Rosa Parks Museum And a tour of Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church and Parsonage. Many in the group visited the Civil Rights Memorial and Museum connected to the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Freedom Rides Museum.
Our heads are full of an incredible amount of information – dates, times, stories. And our hearts are filled with horror and disgust as well as inspiration and admiration. I am reminded again of the remarkable amount of people who gave so much to fight for a cause that was much greater than themselves.
Everywhere we went today (and every other day), I had this sense that we were “touching history”. We were standing in the place where MLK preached or where Rosa Parks was arrested or where JoAnn Robinson printed over 53,000 flyers to alert people to the plan to boycott the buses. These stories need to be told – both so we understand history and secondly so that the lessons from history inform us and guide us to be our best, rather than our worst. We need to tell these stories – the inspiring ones and the horrific ones.
Tomorrow we’ll be spending the day at the Legacy Museum, created by the Equal Justice Initiative. This is the brainchild of Bryan Stephenson, the author of the book ”Just Mercy”.
Thanks for travelling with us.

Day Five Civil Rights Reflections: Monday April 15

Day Five: Civil Rights Trip 2024!
Our remarkable and memorable day in Selma, AL. We drove into Selma, crossing the Edmund Pettis bridge, the same bridge that the marchers crossed. Our morning tour of Selma was led by JoAnn Bland, who also led our tour last year. We walked through Foot Soldiers Park (the picture with the beautiful murals) and then walked over to Browns Chapel AME, where many of the mass meetings were held and where the marches started. JoAnn shared her own personal story. She had to learn about non violence and commit to that, which she would admit was counter to her personality. She learned that violence in any form is wrong. She shared about Bloody Sunday and the injuries that she and her sister sustained. JoAnn concluded by reminding us that we’re fighting today for the same things that they were fighting for in the 1960’s. That gave me a lot to think about. The progress that’s been made doesn’t prevent the slide backwards of suppressing the vote in many states. Discrimination and racism are still in the air we breathe.
We enjoyed lunch at the new restaurant owned by Jackie Smith, called Reflections. She is a bright leader and business woman in the city of Selma, employing a lot of young people and offering 2 restaurants that are a gathering space for the community and visitors.
Our afternoon was unique with the opportunity to put ourselves in the shoes of the Foot Solders from March 1965. We started at Browns Chapel, after hearing about the events of March 7th. We were given instructions to avoid violence. And then we marched to the bridge and crossed it. We didn’t face the violence or the threats, but we were very aware of the place in history this bridge holds. We walked back across the bridge and headed back to Browns Chapel, remembering the events of March 7th, Bloody Sunday, and the vicious attacks that happened not only on the Bridge but throughout the entire town.
Votings rights were achieved thru a hard-fought battle in 1965, about 100 years after they were supposedly guaranteed by the 15th amendment, but never truly granted. We’ve got to be careful and make sure that we’re not going backwards in the 21st century when it comes to ensuring that everyone who is a citizen has the right to vote and reasonable access to votint.
We are spending Tuesday in Montgomery and will be touring Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, the only pulpit that Martin Luther King Jr was ever the pastor of. Thanks for joining this pilgrimage with us.

Day Four Civil Rights Reflections: Sunday April 14

Day Four Civil Rights Tour 2024!
Our last day in Birmingham, Sunday, April 14th. As we’ve done every morning, we began our day with a time of morning centering. Group members had signed up ahead of time to lead this time. Each morning, we have heard inspiring, reflective and challenging thoughts to center us and begin our days. With our group comprised of members from various churches and the Moses Montefiore Temple, our centering moments have not only inspired us, but also expanded our experiences of faith. Later in the morning, we worshipped at 16th St Baptist church. As before, we were warmly welcomed by the congregation and were blessed with beautiful music, a delightful children’s choir, and inspiring preaching. At different times throughout the service, I closed my eyes and imagined what it would have been like to be in that sanctuary during one of the many mass meetings held there to strategize and inspire the foot soldiers who would be leaving the church to march and face the dogs and fire hoses. Their meetings would have included a reminder that non violence is our strategy and that God is our leader. As I sat with my eyes closed, I also remembered the 4 little girls who were killed when the church was bombed by the KKK and the 2 young boys who were killed later that day in Birmingham in the mayhem. Such violence, such tragedy. And such faith to keep marching, keep believing, and all the while, stay true to their commitment of non violence.
After worship our plan was to stop for lunch at some restaurants, but instead we had learned about the annual Jewish Food Festival being held at that time. So we joined the Jewish community and others to enjoy some delicious traditional food and the festival.
We’re in Montgomery now and enjoyed a quieter evening, and are headed to Selma on Monday. Thank you for travelling with us.

Day Three Civil Rights Reflections: Saturday April 13

Day 3 Civil Rights Trip 2024!

Day 3 Civil Rights trip in Birmingham! We spent the morning exploring Birmingham – Kelly Ingram Park, AG Gaston motel, Negro Baseball league museum, and following the footstep of 1000 of marchers. In the afternoon, we were at Bethel Baptist church, the pulpit of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. Shuttlesworth’s sacrificial work from the late 50’s through the 60’s led the way to finally break the stronghold of Bull Connor and the Birmingham elite to end the grip of segregation. At Bethel, we heard a remarkable, information-packed presentation by the lead historian from the Civil Rights Institute. And before returning to the hotel, we stopped by the site where Martin Luther King was imprisoned and wrote the Letter from the Birmingham Jail. That’s a quick summary of what we did, but it doesn’t capture what we learned, experienced, felt, and were unsettled by. Like the previous days, there was so much stirring in my soul, learning the stories of the worst of humanity coupled with the strength shown by the best of humanity. And while hearing those stories, I was reflecting on this movement in our country to squelch the teaching of history. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote, “History is here to help, but it can’t help us if we cripple it.” And our speaker followed up that quote with these words: “History can teach us what to do and what not to do.” History can’t hurt us. It’s done. It’s happened. It’s like a graveyard, according to Kearns Goodwin. But its an important resource for moving forward in our effort to creating a more justice, equitable community and world. As followers of Jesus, we’re called to a life of humility. I see humility as an openness to recognizing that we don’t understand everything and my perspective is limited. But opening myself up to the stories of others, whether those living now or those who’ve gone before, isn’t a threat to me, but rather a gift to help me better understand myself, others, and our world better. I’m so thankful for this journey. For the 42 traveling companions. For their reflections, questions, kindness, openness, and curiosity. And for all of you who are journeying with us through facebook and your prayers. Looking forward to worship tomorrow at the 16th St. Baptist Church in Birmingham.

Day Two Civil Rights Reflections: Friday April 12

Day 2 Civil Rights Trip 2024!

Civil Rights Trip in Birmingham. It was a long, full, meaningful and profound day! Driving to Birmingham, we drove past the exit to Holly Springs, Mississippi, the birthplace of Ida B Wells, another unsung worker of Civil Rights. She’s another one whose life I need to learn more about. Upon arriving in Birmingham, we went to the Civil Rights Institute, where leaders in the community were sharing the reading of Dr King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Hearing those words, flanked by the statues of MLK and Rev. Shuttlesworth, and across the street from Kelly Ingram Park and the 16th St Baptist Church, his words took on new meaning. This was the hub where 1000’s of protesters and marchers gathered over and over again to march for the same rights as white persons enjoyed. In the 1960’s, marchers organized at 16th St Baptist Church and then marched across the street to Kelly Ingram Park to march. On one day, during the Children’s March, they were met by firehoses and dogs, ordered there by the commissioner of Public Safety, Bull Connor. What a coward he was to order vicious dogs and powerful fire hoses on children. Today, I was struck by the new reality taking place in the park. School children were happily running around, playing ring-a-round the rosy, and enjoying the beautiful day. Like other places or moments of trauma in our lives, those that can be reclaimed for good can help us write a new story and that’s what those children were doing today. We were able to visit the Civil Rights Institute, a place dedicated not only to telling the stories of history, but also inspiring a new generation of activists. And then we were blessed by our hosts at the 16th St Baptist Church, who share the stories of that day in September 1963, where hate went so far that it took the lives of 4 girls excited to be at church and 2 teenage boys who later that afternoon were killed in the mayhem of the day. It took the death of these children to finally spur the nation on to notice what was happening in Birmingham. One of our hosts at 16th St Baptist Church said, “How can you not like somebody you know nothing about or you have never even met?” She reminded us that hate is learned at home. Another way this happens is when its engrained in our social customs, written into our laws, or taught by our leaders. And so it is perceived as being right and even by some, believed to be in line with the teachings of Jesus. But treating anyone as less than a child of God is never in line with the teachings of Jesus. My hope and prayer for this trip is that not only each of us is changed, but that our experience ripples out and impacts others in positive ways. We need to hear these stories, painful as they are, to acknowledge the atrocities of the past and create a different story for everyone moving forward. We ended our day with the celebration of Shabbat, led by Rabbi Rebecca and others from Moses Montefiore Temple. It was a moving, meaningful, and important moment to share together with our group representing various religious backgrounds. May God‘s radical love lead us all.

Day One Civil Rights Reflections: Thursday April 11

Day 1, Civil Rights Trip 2024!

From start to finish, the day went well! Forty-two travelers left from Normal bright and early at 6:00 AM. Our first stop was the Memphis Civil Rights Museum, located next to the Loraine Motel. We were fortunate to have an introduction to the museum by Rabbi Micah, a colleague of Rabbi Rebecca. Over the years, he interacted with many of the Civil Rights Leaders who worked in Memphis, including some who were there when Rev. King was shot. The Civil Rights Museum was as inspiring for me as it always is. Multiple cities, spanning over countless years, were places of unrest, violence, and moral corruption. I found myself shaking my head, over and over, having trouble imaging how human beings can treat each other in such despicable ways. But we have to be taught to hate. We’re not created with a hateful heart. But I hold onto the hope that our faith can be transformative as it gives us the courage and hope to believe that even the hardest of hearts can be changed and transformed by love. We stopped by the “I Am a Man” plaza, honoring the over 1300 sanitation workers in Memphis who were striking for just their basic human and civil rights. Day after day, they marched from Clayborn Temple, to fight for their rights. They just wanted to be treated lIke anyone else would want to be treated. The steady, daily, faithful sacrifice of 1000’s of people, in Memphis and throughout the south is so very inspiring. As one quote I read today said, “I’m marching for my children.“ They understood that their efforts might not change things for them, but they believed that someday things could be different for future generations. We’re off to Birmingham tomorrow. Looking forward to hearing the reading of the “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”, read by community leaders outside of the Civil Rights Institute. Then we’ll tour the Institute and visit the 16th St Baptist Church. May our hearts and souls and minds be changed and transformed in ways that deepen our commitment to the goal of bringing God’s kingdom here on earth for all of God’s children.

Civil Rights Trip Refections with Pastor Kathy

Follow Pastor Kathy on Normal First’s Facebook,  Instagram or here on her blog, as she posts updates, pictures, & reflections on the trip every evening from April 11th thru April 19th.  Learn more about this social movement from 1954 to 1968 that sought to end legalized racial segregation, discrimination and disenfranchisement. The movement sought to bring constitutional equality to the national level for the African American community.  Pastor Kathy will give us an intimate and personal account of how the trip has affected her, and will give us a glimpse into her new discoveries about the Civil Rights Movement.

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