Ellen Resnek | Educational Programs and Outreach Manager, CWB
We entered into our community of learners a band of educators, scholars, administrators and community change makers and in that space we found our community of purpose.
Our transformative study seminar unfolded as we entered the sacred spaces, and heard the voices of those who sacrificed all so that future generations could live in a world without want, prejudice, and oppression. We took on their burden, we became witnesses.
We walked in the footsteps of activists and heroes taking on the weight of their history, embedding it in our own memories, so as to move the needle closer to a world where justice for all is the norm, not an elusive goal.
When we experience a transformative journey we carry it with us. During such experiences I am often reminded of the stories from, “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien. Throughout this collection the narrator describes the soldiers’ lives in Vietnam by cataloging many of the items the soldiers humped, or carried, on their “endless march.” Most of the men’s time in Vietnam was spent on foot, walking through rough terrain while carrying everything they might need on their backs. Each item carried reveals something about the man who carries it, the setting, or the war itself.
In this way we can see the mirror of the struggle for Civil Rights. Like countless foot soldiers who crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, like those who rode on Freedom Busses, those who challenged the laws of segregation, and were beaten, bloodied, lost their lives, or saw their family and friends succumb to the weight of of a series of laws that protected the oppressor and punished the victims. Borrowing a bit of creative imagery from Tim O’Brien… ‘They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried…The whole atmosphere, they carried it…all of it, they carried gravity…They took up what others could no longer bear. Often, they carried each other, the wounded or weak…There was the single abiding certainty that they would never be at a loss for things to carry… They shared the weight of memory.’
On our last day together we journeyed to the National Civil Rights Museum, at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis TN. The site of Dr. King’s assassination.
The museum exhibits speak to the power of nonviolence, of collective protest, of community activism and honors the legacy of Dr. King. As we engaged with Dr. King’s platforms and interacted with the timeline of monumental civil rights accomplishments and events, we comforted each other as we envisioned the arc of justice and the trajectory it has, and is taking. We shared stories, reflections, hopes, dreams, and promises. We carried each other this week, and in doing so, we lightened the collective burden.
The physical, emotional and traumatic weight of memory, and those we share it with has power, and in that power we can create change, and with that change we can move that needle ever closer to Dr. King’s vision, in his words:‘Our goal is to create a beloved community. and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.’ — Martin Luther King Jr.
We are not there yet… but we are ever vigilant that the ideals of a more perfect union are both illusive and tangible. As we return to our communities we take that burden and the power of this journey and we get to work. “If not now, when? If not you, who?”― Hillel the Elder