History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again. – Maya Angelou
Last month, we took several of the boys from our Bible study and sports program to Montgomery to visit the Legacy Museum and Peace and Justice Memorial, part of the Equal Justice Initiative.
From their website: “The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration is situated on a site in Montgomery where enslaved people were once warehoused. . .The Legacy Museum employs unique technology to dramatize the enslavement of African Americans, the evolution of racial terror lynchings, legalized racial segregation and racial hierarchy in America. Relying on rarely seen first-person accounts of the domestic slave trade, EJI’s critically acclaimed research materials, videography, exhibits on lynching and recently composed content on segregation, this museum explores the history of racial inequality and its relationship to a range of contemporary issues from mass incarceration to police violence. . . As a physical site and an outreach program, the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration is an engine for education about the legacy of racial inequality and for the truth and reconciliation that leads to real solutions to contemporary problems.”
“The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which opened to the public on April 26, 2018, is the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence.”
Both spaces are thoughtful and powerful, hard and important. We often feel ill-equipped to be the people who are walking these young men through confronting hard truths from our collective histories and know it is important to invite other voices as well as conversations. We were able to take the boys out for lunch and talk through some of the stuff they had seen. They said it made them feel angry, a little. And sad too. We hold space for these feelings, and I am grateful for our newest board member for pointing out the importance of helping these young men find safe and healing spaces to continue processing the emotions that came up as a result of this visit.
One of the most powerful moments of the trip, according to the boys, was when they heard the story in one of the interactive displays on mass incarceration. This boy (name?) was imprisoned at age 14 and sentenced to life in prison for his involvement in a murder. When the boys realized the boy was now a young man, free and working at the museum, they were able to speak with him for a few minutes. He shared more of his stories and encouraged them to consider their decisions carefully. He told them they were responsible for their own choices, regardless of the systems designed to make them fail. He was wise and generous, and all of the boys were impacted by his courage in using his story to help others.
EJI believes that publicly confronting the truth about history is the first step towards recovery and reconciliation. We agree. And we know that for some of the boys, this was hard, and for others, it represented places they weren’t ready yet to go. Nevertheless, we at Blueprint 58 believe that facing our past, and unpacking the legacies it has left on our present, is an important task. We are grateful to EJI and our donors for making it possible for us to take some of our students on this journey.