Ten days ago, I embarked on a journey I never imagined would be as life changing as it was. I boarded a bus with seventy other people and began the Civil Rights Pilgrimage. All I knew about this trip was I was going to learn a lot about the civil rights movement and probably be exhausted along the way.
When we reached Atlanta, I knew this trip was going to be different than others I had been on. After being/attempting to sleep on a bus for eighteen hours, everyone still had smiles on their faces when entering the CNN Center. We all went our separate ways, some touring the CNN Center, the Coca-Cola Museum, shopping in the Underground Center, or going to the aquarium, eventually meeting up at the Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta. This was our first encounter (besides the movies we had watched on the bus) with anything related to what this trip was supposed to be about. I was fascinated by the stories compiled and the experiences shown throughout the museum. There were movies, images, stories, and there was even a section where you could sit on bar stools and experience what it would be like to be sitting in a “sit-in” protest. That evening we enjoyed a lecture by Mr. Charles Person, the youngest of all of the Freedom Riders, and explored the city where decided to sing a little karaoke!
We then traveled to the beautiful state of Alabama, stopping in multiple cities. We visited Tuscaloosa — where we saw the University of Alabama and learned about the segregation that once did and still exists there. We also listened to one of the most amazing choirs I have ever heard. We then traveled to Montgomery, Alabama where we toured the capital building (with one of the greatest/funniest) tour guides I have ever seen, then went to another Civil Rights Museum (a bit more focused on specific people and events), then we went to the Rosa Parks museum — I spent a good amount of money in that gift shop — and finally we did a short bus tour of the city before heading to our hotel.
We then made it to Selma, Alabama. This place is special. It is so incredibly rich in history when it comes to the Civil Rights Movement, yet it is still one of the most segregated cities in America. I mean, this city is broken and you feel it when you arrive. We were in Selma for what seemed like three days, but we were only there for about a day, day and a half. The morning we arrived, my bus and I did a tour of another Civil Rights Museum, hearing from a man that went to jail eleven times before he was even twelve years old during the movement. After that, we went through one of the most excruciating experiences in my life — a slavery reenactment. We were taken off of our bus and were instantly treated as the slaves were when they were being transported to America. Everything about this experience is designed to break you down and make you completely terrified. It opened my eyes to what really happened long ago. I have never felt more ashamed of who I am, terrified of my authority figure, and cowardly for not being strong enough to stand up for my fellow classmates. It was a humbling experience that I will never forget. After we endured that, we were blessed with a lunch from a local church. We then went on a tour of the city with Miss Joanne Bland. Wow was she something. She showed us all over the city of Selma explaining the brokenness and anger she still feels toward everything that is happening.
After our tour with Joanne, she brought us to the Freedom Foundation, where we were supposed to do community service, but we ended up sitting and watching a video about the organization and playing a game with some of the members of the organization. I fell in love. This organization stands for all things good and all centered around love. They’ve opened themselves up to criticism and hate, but all for the intentions of human rights and righting all things wrong. Their documentary I will Dance was one of the most inspiring films I have ever seen. I left my heart with their dancing, singing, writing, loving hearts in the city of Selma and I cannot wait to return to them.
The rest of the trip consisted of Gulfport, New Orleans, Little Rock, and Memphis. Each place showed me something different about this movement. New Orleans — still broken, but still fighting. Being in Little Rock and learning about Little Rock Central High School and the Little Rock Nine. And finally, one of the most important places, Memphis, when Dr. Martin Luther King, jr. was murdered for his fight for humans. Where the ignorance of people took a life of a man that was a leader among many and an inspiration that continues to touch people who take the time to learn about him and the movement.
All of these places I learned so much about this incredible movement and fell more and more in love with a cause that I couldn’t imagine not fighting for. I met the most inspiring people I have ever met — our speakers and the fellow pilgrims — and I can honestly say I will never forget any of them. I am so grateful to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire for providing an experience like this through the university. I am so grateful for all of the faculty, students, and donors whom made it possible for myself and so many others to be changed for the better. I am ready to be a world changer and I am prepared to fight for the right of all things human. Ten days ago, I embarked on a life changing journey and I am all the better for it.
Within the next few days I’ll be compiling a video of the trip and experience I was so fortunate to embark on. I’ll post it on here when I finish.