Reflections on my "Marching in the Arc of Justice" Experience
From the opening remarks of the Rev. Hope Johnson, to the Day Three March across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the buoyant energy was like no gathering I have attended.
In her opening remarks, Rev. Johnson set the tone by reminding us that, to have "hope for better days and a more just tomorrow," we must live in right relationship with each other. Wisely, she also reminded us that, although many of us are "fueled by the raw yearning for meaning in our lives – to MAKE meaning OF our lives," we cannot do that unless we also take time to create space for that "right relationship" to blossom. The Conference created that space for many. And we came away inspired, with new clarity about the past, and for the future.
Rev. Johnson also reminded us that "living fully and deeply means taking risks."
What we did in Selma this year was not "taking risks," but taking time, and making space, to honor and celebrate those who did – those both living and gone. They took risks, so that each of us might come closer to finding that "right-relationship" with each other and the world.
The Conference was also creative, in its kaleidoscope of activities and speakers. It included huge gatherings, rousing speakers, singing & dancing, mounds of delicious food, tweets, workshops, and visits to historic places. Here are some of my recollections:
- Joyfully and passionately singing my heart out to the music of the 60's protest songs, led by Reggie & Kim Harris and Brother Sun -- every day and night of the Conference!
- Watching actors present powerful scenes from Night Blooms – a play by Margaret Baldwin based on her personal research about events in her grandmother's home in Selma 50 years ago.
- Gaining new insights about the many facets of racism – from incarceration and targeting in the criminal justice system, to modern-day denial of voting rights. As a speaker on "the New Jim Crow" panel pointed out "even if we woke up tomorrow and no one was racist, there are still systems in place that would result in racism."
- Being moved to tears by Rev. William Barber who was an overwhelming, powerful and irresistible force of logic and passion. Among other things, he founded the huge Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina – because, as one of the speakers quoted him -- "we're tired of people hating on each other."
- Being humbled and inspired by the vision and determination of Opal Tometi – who (with 2 other young women), founded Black Lives Matter. She explained "leadership from the margins," and told us, "You have to BE what you want to see in the world."
- The rare privilege of a quiet lunch conversation with one of the veterans who was there - who not only took risks to change history, but was himself changed by the bravery and kindness of the towns people who sheltered and fed him.
- Reflecting on the pain of the families that were torn apart by the Civil Rights movement, as we solemnly watched the living family members emerge from the Brown Chapel AME Church where protesters took sanctuary 50 years ago.
- Being deeply thankful to the thousands who participated in the Civil Rights movement (when I was only 12), as we topped the arch of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, shoulder to shoulder, Black and White, singing Civil Rights Marching songs -- in complete and total safety.
- And finally, laughing out loud at the extreme irony, while members of the Alabama National Guard – both Black and White – posed for "selfies" with many of the young marchers, just yards from where their predecessors attacked non-violent protesters 50 years ago. Place and Time had become weird dimensions.
Remembering the love and joy in the air, as I was pressed in among the thousands marching across the Bridge that sunny Sunday afternoon in Selma, I am reminded of something I had only felt once before – in 2009 as I walked the streets of our Nation's Capital, and then stood among thousands in the freezing cold, at the base of the Washington Monument on the Capital Mall, during President Obama's first inauguration.
But, as we know – one election, one event, even a hero's death, cannot change the world forever. What does change the world is: all of us, willing to take even small risks, one day at a time, to Stand on the Side of Love.