An update from Karma, a junior majoring in political science and human rights, with a minor in law and legal reasoning:
Throughout my experience as a human rights major, and especially throughout my experience on this trip, I have thought a lot about our education system. What I find particularly distressing about our education system is the lack of holistic information we receive in elementary, middle and high school about the civil rights movement, and about our history in general.
When we learn about our history, we learn about it in such a distant and isolated manner. For example, when we learn about the persecution of Native Americans, we learn about it as if their persecution was that of an ancient time, and we fail even to make the connection that Native Americans exist in our country, and that they are still not given opportunities that they should have. This failure to recognize that the problem still exists is what breeds tolerance for football team names such as the Redskins.
Similarly, with the civil rights movement, we learn about these events as if they occurred in the distant past. Well, throughout my experience on this pilgrimage I have come to realize just how close and relevant the civil rights pilgrimage really is. Throughout the trip, I marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge with thousands of people, including civil rights leader/U.S. Rep. John Lewis and one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s sons.
I met the daughter of a neighbor of Martin Luther King Jr., as well as the Rev. Robert Graetz, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955 – the year of the Montgomery bus boycott – and Mrs. Graetz. How incredible it is that I was able to participate in an event with people who were so connected to the movement, when throughout high school I never thought I would ever meet these people. They were just a part of the past.
Furthermore, I would like to point out that growing up, I did not know who John Lewis or the Graetz family were, or the role that they played in the civil rights movement. My understanding of the movement was (if we even got to the end of the textbook): Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, the Freedom Riders integrated buses, and people marched on Washington, and MLK Jr. had a dream. Boom. Problems solved.
This brings me to my next point. Because I was exposed to the civil rights movement in such isolated chunks, I never made the connection to the implications it has today. Throughout the pilgrimage, I witnessed an admiration for President Barack Obama in various museums, testimonies, etc. I began to wonder, is the connection simply about race?
My question was answered when I read Joanne Bland’s memoir, and how she said that, as a young woman who was involved in the civil rights movement, she feels instrumental in paving the way for having an African-American president today. I had never made this connection in my early life because I had been taught that with the passage of time, things improve. When, in reality, it is that with movements for social change, organizational efforts and a true stance for what is just bring change. I never made the connection because I had understood the movement through isolated events, and that after the march on Washington, the dream was achieved.
After this trip, I have understood the influence of the movement throughout time, until today with the election of our first black president, and have understood that the movement is not over yet.
Because of our sugarcoated education system, we fail to live up to our greatest potential both as individuals and as a nation. We consistently talk about raising our nation’s future leaders, and yet, when we do not teach our children about the civil rights movement, a movement that sparked the emergence of many other movements for social change, we fail to continue the efforts that many leaders and foot soldiers of the civil rights movement fought so hard to uphold.