Day 4- Let Justice Prevail! – Tiffany Burrows

June 15th, 2016

justice-prevail-2Today Todd led the group to Equal Justice Initiative, “private, nonprofit organization that provides legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners who have been denied fair and just treatment in the legal system” (IJE website).

Their main location stems from Montgomery Alabama, but they also work “across the United States. [T]housands of children have been sentenced as adults and sent to adult prisons. Nearly 3000 juveniles nationwide have been sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Children as young as 13 years old have been tried as adults and sentenced to die in prison, typically without any consideration of their age or circumstances of the offense” (EJI website). Many of these children and adults are people of color.

I had heard that people of color are more likely to be sentenced to prison, proven guilty or not, but I did not realize how our own government system is set up to continue this cycle and not even pardon the many mistaken prison sentencings. What’s even more shocking is that on a economic stand point, it would be cheaper to implement rehabilitation programs than to continue to expand prisons and sentence people to death. Even so, millions of our tax dollars are taken to do otherwise. I began to question the people in power and posed the question, “How can our government leaders grow to such a position of power and manage people lives in such manner?” But then I quickly learned that people of power and influence tend to have little personal experience with someone imprisoned, poor, of color, etc… So, when they see this person who supposedly committed xyz crime, they are seen as a unredeemable criminal and not a human-being.

I want to be clear that not all people of power have this mind set and that there needs to a correction system in place for people who committed a crime(s), but full evaluation for whether the person even committed the crime should be a must and an equivalent sentencing should be made, along with programs set out to educate inmates and get them back on their feet post imprisonment.

A greater population of people that have committed a crime are less likely to commit a crime again. And if these people received the tools and opportunities to live a better life how much more would society improve.

Above all, the most profound moment for me is that our history of slavery and inequality amongst minorities is one of the influences for kind of system we have today. It’s said that slavery ended in the mid 1800’s, but I beg to differ. It now disguised within our government system. And worst of all, many don’t even know it. One of the best ways to keep injustice going, is to trick people into believing that it does not even exist. Even so, I truly believe justice will prevail and that we all can play role in getting the truth out. We do not need to worry about saving the world. We can start the work within ourselves and stem out from there. If we all play our part, we can all make a difference. It’s up to you to discover your role and like Nike, “Just do it!!”

Don Opitz from Montgomery on Day 4

June 14th, 2016

Beyond MLK, Rosa Parks and a few others, I didn’t even know the heroes and heroines of this bloody battle for freedom. The civil rights movement has been marginal in my schooling, and almost completely absent from the pulpit and SS classes of churches that I’ve attended. This trip has been in turns revealing and revolting as we have re-witnessed the callous and brutal racism, and it has been inspiring to hear the stories of courage and faith and sacrifice. The CRM was much deeper and wider than the work of pastors and organizers. The marginal saints of the movement appear in the pictures and films of each museum, and some of those names are etched in memorials and historical records. Thousands were faithful and forgotten foot soldiers who prayed and planned in town after town, in dorm rooms, church basements, lunch counters, and backyard BBQs. They risked, protested, and paid a high price for freedom. The gospel too was carried by marginal saints, not just heroes, and their names are recorded in the margins of the NT: Onesimus and Clement, Lydia and Phoebe, Aristarchus and Archippus. The testimony and light of all of these marginal saints burns on. Our own dark days must be continually lighted by heroes and by marginal saints like us, people who are willing to take the truth into the streets.

June 13th, 2016

Day 3: Albany, GA and Montgomery, AL (Paula Maynard)

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to serve on jury duty. This was my first experience on a jury and I was called the first and fourth days to serve for criminal trials. The first case was very difficult because it involved a crime against a young child; however it was the second case that caused me the most anguish. This case involved a young African-American male who was being accused of intending harm/injury to a police officer and resisting arrest. At the time I was reading Jim Wallis’ America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege and the Bridge to a New America, and all I could do during the jury selection process was pray. I was so distressed because I knew the chances of this young man receiving a fair trial were not good. I did not get picked to serve on that jury and while I was relieved due to the conflict in my own heart, I wanted to serve because I wanted at least one person who would offer this young man a fair trial. Unfortunately the entire jury consisted of white members, the judge was a white male, the defendant’s attorney was a white male and both the injured and arresting officers were white. I do not know the details of the case, nor do I know the verdict; however I can’t help but wonder if this young man became another statistic.

As we drove through the countryside and cities of Albany, GA and Montgomery, AL today, not only was I struck by the economic conditions of these areas (as evidenced by numerous dilapidated houses and structures, as well as vacant lots and buildings), but also by the number of bail bond repositories in Montgomery. Montgomery’s population in 2015 was estimated to be 226,519, and there are 30 places for people to acquire bail bonds. That seems like a lot of bail to me. What is happening in this city?

My mind wandered quite a bit today about the ongoing conditions of poverty, crime and justice (or lack thereof) in the South. And linking it to yesterday’s travesty in Orlando, FL I ask myself, “why is there so much hate?” There’s all kind of hate, as hate comes in all forms and levels of intensity. Why is it that we cannot overcome our hatred, or just animosity, towards one another?

Bail Bond House

Bail Bond House in Montgomery, AL

In preparation for walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge tomorrow I looked up the words to the old southern spiritual, “We Will Overcome.” (Thank you, Rutha Harris, for inspiring me today.) I hope we sing this song together as a group as we cross the bridge, because only working together can we overcome the prejudice and hatred plaguing every facet of this country today.

Day 3 (Kenedy Kieffer)

June 13th, 2016

Today was a very powerful day as we saw many historical landmarks, met Rutha Harris and got 2 rounds of “soul food”.

2 years ago I went to South Africa with my choir to learn about the power of music in times of national struggle and injustice. As I sat in the pew today listening to Rutha Harris sing “This Little Light of Mine”, I was reminded just how powerful music in times of injustice really is.
Many of the people during this movement were trying to find something to hold on to that felt familiar to them. These people couldn’t understand why they were being treated this way, know what was going to happen to them next, or why the KKK would show up and burn a cross in their front yard. But they did know how to sing. No matter what age, gender or area you came from, you always had your voice. A quote that was used in South Africa a lot was ” when you have no power, how do you express yourself?? SING”. I think that many of the people who were apart of this movement would agree that the only way that they could individually express themselves was to create music with their voices.
Community is often an overused and cliche word to use at Messiah, however music did bring the colored community (term used during this time) together. You can sing individually but the power of music when done in mass can break barriers. “It crossed racial lines, the melody was addictive and the beat is hard to resist.” This quote was also stated by Nelson Mandela but applies so well to what we heard today. Hearing Rutha sing was incredible but there was so much more power when she sang WITH Tiffany. Can you imagine 500 Ruthas marching and singing to DC? How powerful is it when it is done together and for a common cause.

“Music touches us emotionally, where words alone can’t.” – Johnny Depp

Now off to take some pepto, turn on the air conditioning and dream about the Mac and Cheese at Sophias.

Day 2: Atlanta, GA (Jake Edmunds)

June 12th, 2016

I’m looking now at a bronze sculpture (in the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site) of a man in a loincloth lifting an infant, Simba-style, to the heavens. Titled “Behold,” the statue honors the tradition of some African peoples of taking a newborn child to a clearing, lifting him or her to the sky and declaring: “behold, the only thing greater than you.”

In this Herculean statue I can see a double-symbolism, a message that extends to visitors to the park as both individuals and as a community. The bronze man seems to simultaneously herald in the days in which no man is seen as superior to any other, and to beckon visitors to embody Dr. King’s greatness and selflessness themselves. He addresses, then, the world at large by reminding us that the child in his arms is to be respected as a fellow human being, and addresses the child himself by reminding him that he ought to live his life as though he has no limits. The MLK Jr. NHS holds more museums and historic sites than can possibly be explored in the depth that they deserve in one day, but for the moment I am content to simply smell the aura of this place. So I sit and contemplate the challenge set forth by the bronze father: the challenge both for his son and for the world around him. The message is personal, and I can feel it pressing me from both sides. How can I strive to live up to the examples set by men such as Dr. King? How must I act if I am to recognize the humanity, the image of God, in all men and women?

This sculpture is nestled between the historic and new Ebeneezer Churches. I wonder what it would be like to worship the Lord in the presence of sisters and brothers in Christ each Sunday and be greeted upon leaving or entering the church by this bold image?

“If you begin something, and you don’t remember where you came from, you’ll eventually find yourself right back where you started.” -Mrs. Juanita Abernathy

Day 2 Atlanta, Georgia (Madi Keaton)

June 12th, 2016

Today, we travelled to Atlanta, Georgia and visited the MLK Center as well as Georgia State University to hear Dr. Glenn Eskew and Mrs. Juanita Abernathy speak. While these experiences were inspiring and will forever hold special places in my memory, it was an event that was not on the itinerary that made the biggest impact on me today.

While I was leaving the MLK Center to get back onto the bus, I met a homeless man named Leonard. As I talked to him, I learned that he was having health issues and was doing odd jobs to get by. I had never had a homeless man approach me before, let alone hold a conversation with me.

Driving through the outskirts of Atlanta, it seemed as though every patch of grass held a homeless person’s belongings. I noticed that, overwhelmingly, these people were black.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said,

New laws are not enough. The emergency we now face is economic, and it is a desperate and worsening situation. For the 35 million poor people in America…there is a kind of strangulation in the air. In our society it is a murder, psychologically, to deprive a man of a job or an income. You are in substance saying to that man that he has no right to exist.

Dr. King’s goals of desegregation and equal treatment have only been partially realized. While black and white people can eat in the same restaurants and drink from the same water fountains, blacks have been forced into a spiraling cycle of inequality and poverty that has not been fixed. How could America, one of the most advanced nations on earth, hold so many people without a house, job, or healthcare? And, if black people make up the majority of our homeless population, as well as our prison population, have we truly broken through racial barriers and into a period of equality?

I don’t think so.

The very thought of this has been on my mind all day. I had just finished walking through a museum heralding Dr. King as a heroic leader and listing his impressive achievements. And yet, it seemed as though enough had not been changed. I tried desperately to think of what I could do to help this issue, but thought of no grand ideas. I was no Dr. King.

But then I remembered something.

Towards the end of our conversation, I told Leonard that I was heading to Georgia State University next. He told me that the students there were always so kind to the homeless and that he was thankful to the college for educating such caring people.

Maybe I can’t find jobs and medical care and food for all of Atlanta’s homeless, but I certainly could show them the love of Christ. Maybe I couldn’t change the racial prejudices in people’s hearts, but I could examine and work on the prejudices in my own.

Everyone, even the great Dr. King, must start with these steps. And maybe, with concentrated effort and communication with other reconcilers, together we can finish the job that Dr. King started and build America into a better society with equal treatment and a bed for every man and woman.

 

Day 2 Atlanta, GA ( Jocelyn Chavous)

June 12th, 2016

 

Reflecting on all that I’ve seen and heard today, from the MLK Center to hearing Juanita Abernathy speak, one question continues to surface to the forefront of my mind.

“Where is our Martin Luther King Jr. today?”

Dr. King was truly an extraordinary orator, pastor and leader. I have never seen or heard anyone so charismatic and passionate as that man. Without a doubt in my mind, he is unparalleled. So thinking about it now, my initial question seems irrelevant since I believe there can never be anyone like Dr. King.

But, why do I still hope for a man to rise up and instill the same teachings of peace, love and justice to this world today? Why do I need some sort of prophet to follow?

Dr. King was a man who won the hearts and trust of many. He was unwavering in his pursuit of freedom and happiness and stared at the harsh realities of this world and the possibility of death everyday as he worked in the Civil Rights Movement.

Despite his ability to reach thousands and travel to a higher place of understanding, wisdom, and peace he was still human.

And realizing his humanity, he could stand in front of his followers and acknowledge his own mortality while resting in God’s immortality.

Dr. King understood that leaders fall. Man will inevitably perish, but the everlasting Father in Heaven will forever remain.

I believe that we do not have to go seeking a new prophet. Man will fail. Yet, the greatest prophet of them all already came and died for our sins. Jesus was the only perfect prophet and Son of God who completed the work that needed to be done through his death.

That being said, as his followers we are given a charge to continue a work that was started and completed on the cross. We do not need to be told what we should do. We already know what to do because of the instructions in the Bible, Christ’s teachings and through the Holy Spirit that resides in us.

As followers of Christ, I don’t think we need to wait on someone to try and inspire us to make a change. Of course we need strong Christian  leaders in this world, but at the same time, being a Christian alone should individually inspire us to make a change in whatever way we can in the places we are currently at.

We have to be leaders for Christ. That is what Dr. King was. With his faith and Christianity as his backbone, he took every blow, every obstacle, every threat and could not be brought to his knees unless it was for prayer. His faith in God’s character and love for his children is what motivated him to do all the things he did.

That’s why it is encouraging to know that the same God that inspired Dr. King should be the same God who inspires us to make a difference.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 1 Greensboro, NC (Joanna Hadley-Evans)

June 11th, 2016

End of Day One and we’re a little fatigued after our early departure this morning. Our group is getting to know one another and share experiences as we begin to retrace the footsteps of civil rights legends.

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Today we visited the campus of North Carolina A & T to see a monument dedicated to Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, David Richmond, and Ezell Blair, Jr. These four black men were freshmen in college when their peaceful sit-in at the local Woolworth lunch counter prompted others to the same non-violent direct call to action.

My thoughts were drawn to my own high school years today. I participated in my school’s Multicultural Awareness Club in which I was one of three whites among several dozen black classmates. It was the first time in my life to experience feeling like I was in the minority. The first occurrence of my white privilege slapping me in the face, though at the time, I would have been unable to articulate its impact.

Our club traveled south one year, touring several black colleges, including A & T. Regretfully, I do not recall learning of these four civil rights legends during that visit, although I’m sure we were told.

I am grateful for this opportunity to retrace my, and more importantly, their steps.

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2016 Tour Participants

June 9th, 2016

This year, Messiah College is sending 11 employees and five students to participate in the “Returning to the Roots of the Civil Rights Bus Tour.”  They are Tiffany Burrows, Joanna Hadley-Evans, Kris Hansen-Kieffer, Robin Lauermann, Caroline Maurer, Paula Maynard, Randy Ness, Don Opitz, Rachel Shenk, Sarah Wade, Scott Zeigler, Jocelyn Chavous, Abbey Combs, Jacob Edmunds, Madilyn Keaton and Kenedy Kieffer .

The trip runs from June 11–19, 2016, and will visit several historic sites of the civil rights movement in North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Part of their time will also be spent meeting with and hearing from various leaders and scholars of the civil rights movement. The participants will post to this blog during their trip, offering insight and reflection on their experience.