Confronting our history so we can have hope

The room was silent as we gathered to reflect on our trip to Montgomery. We all felt heavy with the enormity of our
experience, the burden of having to process it all and nervousness about saying the wrong thing. How do you debrief
hundreds of years of American history? How do you reflect on persistent, systemic racism, and how can you be a
part of ending it? I am not sure we did it well, but we did it that night in our team debrief. We are learning to be bold.
We started our Montgomery Fall Break trip at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. There are many
monuments and thousands of names. It was impossible to read them all. Each name was a human who loved,
dreamed and laughed. Their lives were cut short because white Americans chose to maintain white supremacy.
Their names deserve to be remembered.
The next stop was the Legacy Museum: a museum of American history. It documents the scope and depth of
racism in this country with jarring pictures and unthinkable statistics. It unveils the white supremacy woven into
almost every corner of America’s historical tapestry. From enslavement to sharecropping to Jim Crow to lynching to
mass incarceration and capital punishment, racism still persists.
There is way too much to say than can be said in this little piece. The magnitude of our racist past and present is
astounding. Here are three thoughts:
First, I feel let down by my educational system. I had not learned half of the history that was in that museum. I had
learned hardly anything about lynching. As a future teacher, this experience has been formational. My students will
not leave my class without having some understanding of what I learned in Montgomery.
Second, I feel grief and anger. When I read the real stories of mothers being separated from their children to be
sold, I grieved. When I read all the numbers of people killed on death row today, I grieved. When I walked up
Montgomery’s capitol steps and found Jefferson Davis’s statue in the front, in a place of honor, I felt sick with anger.
Grief and anger are hand in hand when it comes to human atrocities. May we never try to suppress these godly
responses to horror.
Third, I feel emboldened. For so long I have battled with what my place is in this conversation. My experiences in
Montgomery challenged me to own my identity as a white American. I feel more secure than I ever have about what
my role is. My role is firstly to listen. I must always be a learner who is ready to admit my inevitable mistakes. My
role is to speak up in white spaces. When my white friends and family say things that do not honor the “imago Dei” in
a human being, I must SPEAK UP. My role is to vote for people committed to anti-racist policies. Voting is the
strongest way I can help change systems of power. My role is to loudly protest injustice whenever it occurs.
Montgomery, with all its heaviness, challenged me to action.
We learn history because those lives and stories mattered. We learn about present-day systemic injustice
because we can be part of the solutions. In the words of the Equal Justice Institute, “to overcome racial inequality,
we must confront our history.” So, JBU, let us be bold.