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Open-Hearted Journey Makers

Reflection by Ronnise Handy 

I just returned from the FutureChurch Civil Rights and Racial Justice Pilgrimage with a group of thirty-five like-minded and open-hearted journey-makers. Black, white, primarily middle-aged and older – from both coasts and many cities in between including Charlotte, Detroit, and Birmingham, just to name a few. Ohio was well represented, and we had one beauty from Iowa!

FutureChurch Pilgrimage participants group photo in front of a “Good Trouble” mural in Selma, Alabama

I must preface my reflections by saying I had travelled to New Orleans once and passed through Alabama and Mississippi enroute to another destination. These were my only times in the deep south. I vowed to visit those places only on a tour, with people who should know the lay of the land and in no other fashion. And I am so grateful I was on this trip. It was transformative.

I tried to prepare myself for the onslaught of information, both educational and dehumanizing -akin to the horrendous images I had seen my entire life  displaying the practices of many places in the land during that period. I was born in the winter of 1963, so I missed the movement in real time but many on the trip shared personal memories of their teenaged years, their recollection of what was occurring, and the way it made them feel. It enriched our understanding to hear these firsthand accounts of that volatile time.

“The songs were offered as the holiest of prayers and homage to the many who sacrificed it all for freedom.”

We were immensely fortunate to have members religious orders with us, journeying to better understand their congregations’ histories. Kayla August, a young dynamic preacher, inspired us with her insights. And Dr. Kim Harris, a songstress and storyteller, taught us freedom songs that we sang at various places. On the bus, in churches, at museums- whenever the mood and Spirit led us to sing – we did. And people in the area at the time were often affected and headed toward us and sometimes even joined in. The songs were offered as the holiest of prayers and homage to the many who sacrificed it all for freedom.

Dr. Kim Harris leads the group in song at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, GA

We toured museums, memorials, churches, and parks, in five cities total. Those interactions were most amazing – successfully straddling a fine line of reverence and technology, to make the information and encounters come roaring to life. And we had time to sit with and reflect on each experience presented. The brutality and demoralizing treatment to nonwhites & whites who sympathized at that time was intense and made real plain. Many tears were shed during and after the tours. And our group of journey-makers with various backgrounds, from multiple generations bonded and became family.

I conclude that all of it is a must see. And feel. Never forget. It is both a patriotic and spiritual opportunity to follow in the footsteps leading to freedom – realizing its true worth.  Hopefully, to be inspired and motivated. I am. And I think you could be too. Proud, even, for what we accomplished together. We can join hands again and work to repair the current climate of our country, leading ever closer to living up to our name: The “United” States of America.