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A Civil Rights Pilgrimage Into The Deep South

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Brandeis Bridges Fellows Take a Trip To Self-Discovery While Learning About The Past

¨I feel like I’ve seen a part of your souls,¨ our classmate Dahlia says to us. In our worn hotel room in Memphis, the words rest heavy with truth. I look around at everyone’s faces, trying to visually cement this moment in my mind because in a day, the adventure will be over, and we will again have to learn from history books rather than from the mouths of those who lived it.

As a Brandeis University freshman this semester, I was chosen along with four other African-American and five Jewish students to be a Brandeis Bridges Fellow. During a break in our class schedule, this year’s fellows, two academic advisors and two past fellows, took a pilgrimage through the deep South. We traveled to Atlanta, GA, Birmingham, AL, Montgomery, AL, Selma, AL, Jackson, MS, Clarksdale, MS and Memphis, TN, all painstakingly-intentional destinations designed to give us full pictures of what it means to be Black and/or Jewish in the modern world. Drawing from our diverse fields of study, interests, and backgrounds, we laughed, debated, and argued, a platform of rich discussion built on mutual respect and a yearning to turn the ¨other¨ into a friend. We ultimately learned about and discussed the history of the civil rights movement, the extent of Jewish involvement in the movement, racial progress in America, the relationship between black and Jewish people today, and the state of race relations on campus.

The people I saw when I looked around that hotel room on the last day were diverse in more ways than meets the eye, not just defined as Black or Jewish. I finally looked again at Dahlia, silently thanking her for so eloquently articulating our shared experience and feeling at once embarrassed by the emotional weight of the moment and shocked by the gentle reminder that our camaraderie and community had been created in just six days. Over six days, we had peeled back some of the layers of misunderstanding and prejudice in America and delved into the reality of race at Brandeis.

We spent a week getting to know, and more importantly, understand each other. To comprehend the contemporary, we looked toward the past, hoping to unearth answers to long-standing questions about race, protest, friendship and forgiveness.

Some of the most resonant moments involved speaking to civil rights leaders who shared their experiences just as if no time had passed. While in Birmingham, AL, we had the privilege of speaking with Bishop Calvin Woods, Sr., an active participant in Birmingham’s civil rights movement. He imbued in the group the sanctity of our journey, as a moment in time to preserve, protect, remember and be inspired by. He relayed to us in horrifying detail the harsh realities of his experience. Unexpectedly, juxtaposed with this sorrow was palpable and immeasurable joy, zest, faith, and forgiveness. It bathed us all in a warm, divine glow. It was as if his words washed us — and Birmingham — clean so that we, along with the city, could start anew. It is never too late to do the right thing, be better and do better. Change agents are often not beloved in their time because condemning something is easy while fighting to end is hard. I was filled with a strong sense of empowerment and self-sufficiency that day. I discovered a crucial part of change lives inside me. This whole journey has been a call to action. It is easy to talk about issues, but discussion can only be so effective. Actions speak louder than words.

My experience has informed my views on modern issues of social injustice as well as my academic and social life at Brandeis. Throughout the spring semester, I have been able to leverage my newfound insight on the civil rights movement in the classroom as I study both past and present social issues and movements. My academic areas of study range from the Black Power movement to researching mass incarceration of women of color in the present day. Modern societal injustices, such as wage inequality and restrictions on gay marriage, cut across race, religious and socioeconomic lines, uniting the nation under common goals.

Modern day movements like the ¨Black Lives Matter¨ and the LGBTQ’s community’s marriage equality fight offer hope for a better future and the assurance that persistent protest has the power to attract positive and transformational attention. The goal is to create an undeniable resonance between the fight for equality in the present and the struggles for racial uplift in the Civil Rights era.

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