June 5th, 2019

“In the end, we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends” MLK

Have you wondered how neighbors could turn their Jewish friends away when they needed a place to hide, or how high school teenagers could look on when their classmates terrorized the Little Rock Nine? Sadly, oppression and injustice are all still all around us. What are we doing now?

This trip has been impactful not for the museums, but to hear stories from those who lived it, and to process it with those traveling with me.

These past 2 days, we had the honor of hearing stories from 4 amazing women. Rutha Harris (original Freedom Singer), Eartha Watkins (current Freedom Singer), Minnijean Brown Trickey (member of the Little Rock Nine), and Lynda Lowery (at age 15, the youngest to march from Selma to Montgomery for the right to vote). Their stories show how children and women can do great things. Even today, they all continue to act rather than being silent.

Minnijean talked about 3 groups of students at Little Rock. The 200 that verbally, physically, and emotionally abused her daily for months, the 20 that were kind, and the 900+ that were silent. Not acting is choosing a side.

All the women challenged us not to be silent. Just take a step and act.


Ordinary people doing extraordinary things

June 4th, 2019

Last night we had the opportunity to hear the story of one of the Little Rock nine, Minijean Brown. It has been a blessing to have her sharing her experience and traveling with us on this tour. Minijean endured hardships that we only seek to understand.  She explained that the end result of the Little Rock desegregation actually hurt both black and white students. Schools were closed and education was denied to all students just to keep the black students out of the schools in defiance of the federal order. Her encouragement to us was that “children can make presidents act.”  This was exemplified by President Eisenhower sending federal troops to protect the Little Rock nine.  She encouraged us by saying we all can be ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I am learning so much on this trip and having my eyes opened to the real struggles that happened in our nation’s history and that continue to happen today.  I hope to see where I can use this experience to make a difference.


Understanding and Inspiration

June 4th, 2019

The Civil Rights Tour, so far, has been full of gaining knowledge of the ‘real history’, meeting inspirational people and making me think differently.  These incredible people I met grew up in a time of intense struggle for basic rights to live life that I took for granted.  I had no idea when I was growing up in the sixties and early seventies the intense division between people across the South and  throughout America.

I am learning so much more about Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, the Little Rock Nine, Freedom Singers, segregation and desegregation and human rights injustices.  I met and talked with two people that captured my head and heart and opened my eyes.

Minniejean Brown, who was one of the Little Rock Nine and attended Little Rock Central High School.  The abuse (physical and emotional) that she put up with as a teenager was so incredible and inspiring.  Hearing her stories firsthand made my heart hurt.  The empathy and admiration that I have for her is difficult to put into words.

Another awe inspiring person is Rutha Harris, one of the Freedom Singers.  She taught me how she demonstrated non-violence by singing.  She shared songs and I sang along, but it wasn’t until near the end that I realized  if my skin was a different color I would have struggled to survive this time period.  Rutha’s. strong faith in God and her community helped her live the worst of the Civil Rights period.

My eyes and heart have been opened and I have only been with this Tour for about 2 days.  How can this not change a person, but most importantly how can it not change a Christian?  It’s hard to believe that we are still not treating others the way we want to be treated, but it’s true.  We see it in the media every day.  Aren’t we supposed to love one another? How or why is this still a problem?  Perhaps we all need a trip like the Civil Rights Tour or some type of journey to re-examine ourselves and how our faith fits into the real world.

I am thankful for this opportunity to grow!

Cathy Poiesz

Treasured or Abandoned

June 3rd, 2019


Two churches stand out in my mind from our explorations today, Old Mount Zion Baptist Church in Albany, GA and the Holt Street Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL.

Mt. Zion is connected to the Albany Civil Rights Movement Museum.  It is beautifully restored and hosts the Freedom Singers weekly, led by Rutha Mae Harris, one of the original Freedom Singers.  Ms Rutha and a friend joined our tour today to teach us songs that inspired and encouraged not just our group but many activists historically and currently.

The Holt Street Baptist Church, on the other hand, is abandoned.  The congregation is still active, but is now worshiping at another location.  This historic building is in desperate need of repair.  It has broken and boarded windows.  We were only able to view it from the exterior and reflect upon the beauty and utility that once was.

Both of these building witnessed important events of the Civil Rights era, yet one is treasured and one abandoned.  This is a little like the way we treat the events.  Some of us have great respect for the people and the sacrifices.  Others do not understand the importance, or worse, have chosen to work toward the dismantling of the very rights these citizens worked so hard to gain.  Segregation, in another form, is still a reality today.  Many citizens of the United States have had their voting privileges blocked and there are some who are working hard to manipulate the vote in their favor.

I love beautiful churches.  They draw me closer to Christ.  It is sad to see us abandon not just the buildings, but the values that the Church is called to uphold.


June 3rd, 2019

Today, day 3, of the Civil Rights bus tour, brought us to Albany, Georgia and Montgomery, Alabama.  In Albany we got the chance to visit and tour the Albany Civil Rights Museum, and worship with Rutha Harris at the Old Mount Zion Baptist church.  Rutha was a freedom rider who traveled over 50,000 miles through 46 states.  Her voice touched my soul today.  It was beauty, hope, power and worship.

After driving to Montgomery and visiting the sites, we got to hear from our fellow traveler, Minnijean Brown-Trickey. After Brown vs. the Board of Education, nine students, including Minnijean, attended Central High School in an effort to integrate in September 1957.  They experienced name-calling, bullying, threats, and hatred.  I cannot even imagine.  Through all of it, Minnijean’s smile was her protection.  They gave out awfulness and the worst they could offer and she met it with her smile.  (If you look at photos, she is always smiling.)  She has spent her life teaching non-violence to children all over the world.

I was blessed today by these two amazing women.  I will take what they offered and carry it with me, letting it sink in and shaping my thoughts and actions.

Be the change you want to see

June 3rd, 2019

The Civil Rights Bus Tour is a wonderful, inspirational learning experience full of so many thought provoking words, images and people. Even though I have previously been exposed to many of these stories, this trip is deepening my knowledge and challenging me to greater participation. I spent two days mulling over the lack of dynamic leaders today as were active in the 1960’s.  One of our fellow travelers is Minnijean Brown-Tricky, one of the Little Rock Nine. She helped me to understand that we are the change agents needed in our world. On February 1, 1960 in Greensboro, North Carolina at the Woolworth lunch counter, four college students sat hoping to be served. They knew it was a long shot. After all, the privilege of eating a meal at that restaurant was reserved for whites only. They were black. These four young men started a movement that inspired young people in their city and across several states to challenge segregation by staging similar sit-ins. If they could do this, then why not me? Why not you?



June 2nd, 2019

Our first stop on the Civil Right bus tour was the International Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina.  The museum is in the Woolworth building where the Greensboro four – David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jr. and Joseph McNeil – sat at the lunch counter on February 1, 1960.  They were students at a nearby university, and they were tired of being treated as second-class citizens, so they decided to sit down and order instead of buying their food at the counter and taking it with them out of the store.  The store would not serve them, and they sat there until the store closed.  Then they came back the next day with other students.  The sit-in continued until July when the lunch counter was integrated.  This brave act inspired many others to protest against racial injustices.

When we were in the “Wall of Shame” exhibit, my eyes filled with tears as I looked at photos of lynchings, a little girl whose eyes were burned away, Emmitt Till’s body… I began to be overcome.  Our tour guide let us take in the photos, but ended by saying we don’t have time for guilt and shame, we need empathy.

I recently heard a nurse describe the difference  between sympathy and empathy.  If someone is stuck in a hole in the ground, sympathy leads you to climb into the hole to be with the person, but empathy leads you to go get a ladder and get them out of the hole.

One thing I hope to get out of this experience is how I can move past sympathy to empathy.  What can be done to change injustice instead of just acknowledging it, sitting next to it, and wishing it would go away.  I look forward to seeing ways I can work toward change.

Reflecting on the Civil Rights Bus tour

June 19th, 2018

These were some my journal entries during the tour. It was a privilege to be part of this experience, and would only hope for more people to get the opportunity to participate and learn more about the civil rights movement. It has been interesting experiencing the civil rights movement from an outside perspective, and comparing it with the South African Civil Rights movement.
My reflections are split into categories. There are more categories, but I will share these for now. This is a glimpse into how I have been processing this experience. I used works and philosophies that I am already familiar with to reflect on how this experience has made me feel; beyond the surface level. The works of Desmond Tutu, in particular, have helped me process my emotions throughout this whole trip. Most of the individuals whose quotes I used are familiar and well known. If not, I hope my reflections pave way for more learning opportunities!

Movement for all.
When I think of the civil rights movement, I used to think of Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, John Lewis and Ralph Abernathy. The civil Rights movement has been taught in a way that ignores the other prominent figures in the movement. The movement has been reduced to the efforts of a few, forgetting the sacrifices of many: Hosea Williams, Coretta Scott King, James Bevel, Jimmie Lee Jackson, Fred Shuttlesworth, Diane Nash, freedom riders, freedom singers, the youth and many more. It was a movement for men, women, and children regardless of their age, skin color, and religious beliefs. The movement was characterized by unity, support, and hope.
Above all, it was inspiring to see college students spearheading the movement. The four students who led lunch counter sit-ins in Albany, freedom riders, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the struggle for voting rights, and many more. College students were an important driving force in the movement. They were not willing to sit in the sidelines and watch. Speaking with Dr. Rip Patton and Kwame Lillard, and watching documentaries on the bus gave me more insight on what it was like to be a college student during the civil rights movement. They put a hold on their education to be part of the movement. This was a reminder that, as a college student, I am capable of changing the world. I can be a part of something bigger. In the words H.E. Paul Kagame once said “We cannot turn the clock back nor can we undo the harm caused, but we have the power to determine the future and to ensure that what happened never happens again.”

As we spent the past few days on a bus visiting historical sites of the civil rights movement and meeting with key figures in the movement, I have found myself reflecting more on the concept of humanity; the essence of being human. Looking at the violence met with the lunch counter sit-ins, the freedom rides, Bloody Sunday, the terror of the Ku Klux Klan and more, it strikes me how evil and violent segregationists were. Desmond Tutu mentions that it’s no secret that human beings “have the most extraordinary capacity for evil. We can perpetrate some of the most horrendous atrocities.” But how does one manage to perpetrate such evil towards another human being?
If you look at different atrocities throughout human history, you see a pattern. Take for instance the 1994 genocide against Tutsis in Rwanda, apartheid in South Africa, the holocaust in Germany, and slavery, segregation, and mass incarceration of people of color in America. They all have ‘humanity’ at their core. It’s easy to hate someone whom you deem less human than you. It’s easier to strip someone of their humanity by calling them names and treating them like savages. And this is what white segregationists and the KKK did to people of color in America.
The more I reflect on this, the more I think on Desmond Tutu’s words “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together,” and the Afrikan Ubuntu philosophy “I am because we are.” These ideals mean that humanity is not embedded in a person solely as an individual, but is a quality we share. Part of being human, is realizing another person’s humanity. We owe this to one another. Once we start pushing the concept of ‘otherness’ and fail to realize our shared bond as human beings, we fail to abide by the concept of Ubuntu. We fail to be human. Therefore, I can’t help but reflect on present injustices across the globe. When have we striped others of their right to be human? Why have we become comfortable with the idea that ‘if it doesn’t affect me, it doesn’t concern me!’ What gives you pain should pain me as well.
It hit me how we, humans, have evolved to be individualistic and isolated, focusing on personal pleasures and never reflecting on how our actions affect the rest of the human race. It has been troubling, learning that I have given into this system myself. Being on this trip made me realize that I need to change a lot about myself and how I interact with others. That I need to be aware of the harms of being silent in the face of injustice. That I need to be bold.

The sound of Freedom
Meeting with Rutha Harris and learning/singing freedom songs was one of the highlights of the civil rights bus tour. Rutha’s voice is a moving force! The way she sings about freedom sent chills down my spine. Holding hands and singing the most well-known freedom song ‘We shall overcome’ was one of the powerful moments during this experience. Being in Rutha’s presence and singing along with her was only a glimpse into the power of freedom singers in the civil rights movement.
Freedom songs were critical to the civil rights movement, although many of us may not have known this. Most Civil rights activists reflected on how music gave them strength. “You can break my bones, but you can’t break my spirit.” I remember hearing these words more than once. Freedom fighters would sing in jails, police cars, protests, planning meetings, freedom rides, and everywhere else. Freedom songs were the soul of the civil rights movement.
“Out of the cacophony of random suffering and chaos that can mark human life, the life artist sees or creates a symphony of meaning and order. A life of wholeness does not depend on what we experience. Wholeness depends on how we experience our lives.” Desmond Tutu
This quote puts into words how I felt being in Rutha’s presence. There is a strength in singing from the core of your soul. In choosing to sing, when everything else seems dark. There is a strength in letting your soul shine when the flesh is suffering. This is what freedom songs did; provide the fuel to take in physical suffering and transform it into a beautiful melody.
Seeing this, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to the South African civil rights movement. It shares the same reliance on music to criticize apartheid, with Miriam Makeba leading the struggle for freedom through music. The most famous song out of this movement ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika’ (God bless Afrika) became the pan-Afrikan liberation song.

The cross and the Lynching Tree & the Theology of Liberation
Visiting the Legacy museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice was an emotional day for me. The legacy museum went through the history of African Americans in this country; from slavery to mass incarceration. They had a powerful portrayal of the atrocities of slavery and the current threat of violence against African Americans. We listened to stories, read letters, and saw documentaries detailing the prison system and the unjust system that has led to the incarceration of people of color at an alarming rate. This was followed by a tour in the peace and justice memorial for lynching victims across the nation. There was an eerie feeling associated with standing underneath these memorials. It felt like a heaviness waiting to drop on one’s shoulders. My mind raced as I read the names and carefully traced my fingers on one of the memorials that told of a public lynching in Pennsylvania. I fought back tears as I had come face to face with the horrors of lynching.
It was hard for me to understand such terror and humiliation. How, with all this racial terror greeting knocking on their doors, African Americans still found hope and the strength to keep on fighting. I spent the rest of the day thinking of lynching and racial terror through James Cone’s ‘The cross and the Lynching Tree’ and Liberation Theology. It was easier to for me to process it that way. Cone draws a comparison between the cross and the lynching tree as symbols of hope and redemption. Crucifixion was a humiliating way of dying designed by the Romans to instill terror in insurrectionists. Lynching was used by the KKK, in the same way, to terrorize and humiliate African Americans. Cone mentions that both the cross and the lynching tree “represent both death and the promise of redemption, judgment and the offer of mercy, suffering and the power of hope. Both the cross and the lynching tree represented the worst in human beings and at the same time ‘an unquenchable ontological thirst’ for life that refuses to let the worst determine our final meaning.” Through a theology of liberation, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ speaks to the oppressed. African Americans could hold on to the story of Jesus on the cross- his suffering and a humiliating death- as a symbolism of hope for tomorrow. This attempt to make the gospel and the story of Jesus relevant to the struggles and sufferings of African Americans, is powerful in helping African Americans keep their head above the water.
There is no simpler way to explain this. But looking at Lynching through Cone’s lenses made more sense. I still cannot fully explain how one keeps hope in the face of such terror. And I can only hope that, with time, I’ll gain more understanding into this.

Love, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation
We spent a portion of the time on the bus listening to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s speeches and sermons. His way of speaking, his ideals, and his humbleness are truly remarkable. His last speech ‘I’ve been to the mountaintop’ and his ‘Drum-major Instinct’ sermon are particularly deep, prophetic, and transcend time. They are as relevant today as they were 50 years ago. It’s striking how part of the sermon was Dr. King speaking to Jesus saying “I just want to be there in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to others, so that we can make of this old world a new world.” Listening to these speeches implored me to deeply consider his words and study his concepts of love and non-violence.
Further on, we had the honor of meeting Lisa McNair- the sister of Denise McNair, one of the 4 girls killed in the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Lisa told a touching story about meeting Tammy, the daughter of one of the men responsible for the bombing. Lisa deciding to be friends with Tammy must have been one of the hardest decisions she has ever made in her life. But, it was a lesson to us all. Looking at someone attached to a painful memory and deciding to forgive them does not come easy. Reconciliation is not easy.
At the same time, we also had the privilege of meeting Carolyn McKinstry who was at the church the day it was bombed. Carolyn talked about forgiveness, depression, PTSD, and mental health. It was memorable to hear Dr. McKinstry say that she decided to forgive the men responsible for the bombing in order to move on with her life. She expanded this on a ministry of love, acceptance, and reconciliation.
Hearing both women and Dr. King speak on love and reconciliation was influential. Their recount of the events that heavily impacted their lives was a reminder of Desmond Tutu saying “Forgiving is not forgetting; it’s actually remembering–remembering and not using your right to hit back. It’s a second chance for a new beginning. And the remembering part is particularly important. Especially if you don’t want to repeat what happened.” I was reminded of the role that Truth and Reconciliation Commissions played in Rwanda, South Africa, and Canada. But it also left me wondering if we could adapt the same models in our communities, here in America, to address racial reconciliation in the context of the history of this nation. We can learn something from these commissions as they successfully addressed genocide, racism, and a history of violence perpetuated against one race/ethnicity as well as their lasting effects on these countries.

The Church and the Civil Rights movement: A Call to Action
There is a lot more that can be said about the civil rights movement. The most striking of all, however, is the role of the church in this movement. The church was at the pivotal center of the civil rights movement. It is where marches were organized, meetings were held, and actions revised. Church fundraisings were used to bail people out of jail, and the church doors were open to everyone. In its bigger role, the church had the responsibility of educating the youth. Without the church, the civil rights movement may not have been the same. It was the church that made Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, and many other prominent figures in the civil Rights movement.
As a Christian, I can’t help but reflect on the church today. Where does the church stand in the face of injustices all across the globe? Can we do more? I can’t answer the question for the American church. But I know that my church in Rwanda can do more. We should take on the mantle of responsibility to continue the work of those before us. We can use the ministry of love to promote peace, unity, and reconciliation. The ministry of Jesus should set an example for us; to advocate for the oppressed and fight for justice. The teachings of Jesus should inspire us to love one another, and work together to achieve harmony.
And with that, I’ll end with Desmond Tutu’s words: “We are made for goodness. We are made for love. We are made for friendliness. We are made for togetherness. We are made for all of the beautiful things that you and I know. We are made to tell the world that there are no outsiders. All are welcome: black, white, red, yellow, rich, poor, educated, not educated, male, female, gay, straight, all, all, all. We all belong to this family, this human family, God’s family.”


They Deserve the World

June 17th, 2018

Rosa Parks Fence

The Rosa Parks Museum showed the courage that it takes to stand up, or sit down, for what you believe in.  Many stories depict Rosa as a frail woman who did not give up her seat because she was too tired.  The only thing Rosa was tired of was being treated as a minority, not worthy of equal treatment.  She was not a passive woman who accidentally sat down despite being told to move, she was a social activist who fought for what she deserved.  When the bus driver told her that she would be arrested, she responded, “You may do that.”  These words show that Rosa was protesting and that she was doing so in a polite and non-violent manner.  This takes true courage.  Following the museum was an art gallery that contained a collection of works entitled “Broken Glass.”  These works used art and raw materials to depict current social issues.  The thought and emotion put into each piece was astounding and I couldn’t help but tear up thinking about the people currently facing each struggle.  Above is the piece of art that struck me as the most complex and emotional, I cannot put all of its significance into words.  In the gallery there was an adorable young, African-American girl.  She sat in a stroller with a big smile on her face and stared at me as I talked to her.  Looking at her bright, cute face made me so happy and so sad all at once.  Here in front of me sat an unjaded, beautiful child who has yet to face oppression and mistreatment, she was beaming.  But she won’t have the chance to maintain this innocence.  This child deserves the world and yet she will likely face hatred that should have been eradicated long ago: hatred for being a woman, for being black, for being young, or for many other reasons.  How can we let division and politics serve as a barrier between this young girl and the perfect world she deserves?  ALL of God’s children deserve the world and I pray that some radical change would occur that allows a real equal opportunity for every single child of God.

Grabbing the Rope

June 17th, 2018

Today we visited the Albany Civil Rights Institute.  This was a humbling experience as the museum depicts the names and faces of many civil rights activists and the harsh consequences of their efforts.  These people were treated deplorably simply because they fought to receive the treatment they deserved, to be treated like a human.  Our history classes only teach us so much and act as if the story is finished, but this trip has opened my eyes to the continuous struggles many Americans face today.  Following our tour of the museum, we were lead in freedom songs by the fantastic Rutha Harris.  She had a presence that was bold and courageous and when she opened her mouth and sang, the passion in her words was palpable.  Ms. Harris sang the same songs with us that she sang as she marched for her rights alongside her family and friends.  To be led in song by her was a privilege.  I could feel God in her presence and through her songs.  I have encountered few who have inspired my faith more than this amazing Christian woman.  Rutha was joined in song by our tour guide Debra Berry.  Debra had an amazing voice and a beautiful soul.  Following the tour, a few of us gathered to listen to her story in the gift shop and she told us that she has struggled to be faithful to God.  She stated that when our group entered the museum she felt a harmony among us and a peace and it restored her hope that God is reigning over the world today.  She said the rope of her faith is rising higher and she was worried that soon it would be out of her reach.  She then told us that the harmony and beauty she saw in our group today helped her to grab onto that rope, and grab onto her faith again.  A few of us Messiah students and faculty had the privilege of praying in a group with Ms. Berry and it was an emotional experience.  It is impossible to tell the struggles others face, but this day was a great reminder to be faithful and to love on others with no restrictions.  Please pray for Ms. Debra Berry and for all others who have a dwindling faith and need a revival.