I am back from trip, and I’m tired. I chaperoned a trip to Montgomery and Birmingham, Alabama and Memphis, Tennessee. The trip centered around two important revolutions in our history, both orchestrated by African-Americans — the Civil Rights Movement and Blues and Rock and Roll music. I wanted to share some of my journal with you. This is part of my journal from Day 1:
I think it is strange sometimes how serendipity can lead to life transformation. I hadn’t heard of Erin Gruwell two weeks ago. Then I saw Freedom Writers. Tonight I’ll finish their [the Freedom Writers] book. I am impressed by how relevant their stories are to the lessons and history I’m learning about today. Seeing the SPLC (Southern Poverty Law Center) was probably the most moving experience for me because I know what they have done [moreso than the students]. I admire Morris Dees for his courage. I never thought of the SPLC as a physical place before. It seemed like more of an ideal. But it’s real and made of reinforced steel to protect its workers from the people who want to kill those workers for what they do.
Billy [Billy Planer, who runs Etgar 36, a touring company for Jewish teens] asked us this morning if knowing that Rosa Parks’s famous protest was “set up” somehow diminished its value. I think that the fact that Parks knew what she was doing and that it would result in arrest — knew that she would become the poster child for Civil Rights — makes her more courageous. If I were asked to do such a thing, could I stand up (or rather, sit down) and do it? Is that not braver than acting on impulse because one feels tired? I think she showed true courage in facing arrest in order to help her community and society become a better place [note: we had visited the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery].
I enjoyed hearing Colonel Stone Johnson speak (read more). He is so sincere in his love for people and God. His message of tolerance is not new, but hearing from an ordinary man — not a King or Abernathy or John Lewis — a real character, a storyteller — brought the struggles in Birmingham alive. If I had walked in that park and looked at those statues without his guidance, I doubt I would have thought as much about them. I will, I hope, always remember the four pillars representing those four little girls who died in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. They were placed in front of a statue of three kneeling pastors. Looking over the statues, I could see the church across the street. I touched one of those pillars and felt like I was really patting the head of one of those little girls. [Note: Colonel Stone Johnson was our tour guide through Kelly Ingram Park. You can see some of the statues here.]