“There are still forces in America that want to divide us along racial lines, religious lines, sex, class. But we’ve come too far; we’ve made too much progress to stop or to pull back. We must go forward. And I believe we will get there.”
– Congressman John Lewis
The Southern heat always manages to take me by surprise but somehow I’m always even more struck by the hospitality and kindness that meets me here. As someone who does not live in the South, there is an unrecognizable unease that seeps under my skin upon the thought of being here. Perhaps this is because of the history I’ve been taught to digest through my public schooling. This month has allowed me the space to push back against everything I’ve been taught to believe as true. From meeting civil rights legends to hearing from elected city officials, we’ve had the opportunity to see the inner workings of Atlanta in a way that we never would have otherwise. And it has been an amazing honor.
We’ve had the opportunity to see the inner workings of Atlanta in a way that we never would have otherwise. And it has been an amazing honor.
After meeting Dr. Shirley Reese and hearing about her account about being held captive in a stockade in Leesburg, Georgia, I’ve been thinking about how we are kept from the truth in history. In an era of alternative facts, what does it do to the collective memory of a society when there are no accurate accounts of history properly recorded? And what does it in turn do to students of history who want to better understand the truth? I think there is much importance in seeking out knowledge through unconventional sources and routes in order to paint a clearer image. To some extent, the information that we are taught in the public education system is largely manufactured. There are many truths that are omitted because it does not serve those in power so they rearrange the truths. If ideologies and belief systems cannot be questioned and hold absolute power, the people must organize to stand against injustice wherever it appears. The time for shaping our new realities is today as we draw on the wisdom of the past and build on the vision for tomorrow.
If ideologies and belief systems cannot be questioned and hold absolute power, the people must organize to stand against injustice wherever it appears.
Before my month in Atlanta, to say I was skeptical of civil and political engagement as a legitimate tactic would have been an understatement. I knew no reason why my energy should be directed towards systems and institutions that I’d been told would not bend for me. However, after spending a great deal of time in the presence of Dr. Rosalyn Pope, I began to question my lack of imagination. We’ve been talking a great deal this month about restorative justice and what that entails for the city of Atlanta. But I’d created boundaries within myself and forced limitations on what could be. By writing and publishing an appeal for human rights at a time when that was inconceivable, Dr. Pope dared to break free from the restraints of limited existence. She saw the world not for what it was, but for what it could be. How was I not able to do the same? Upon my return to the Twin Cities, I hope to become more actively engaged with ensuring young people are aware and actively participating in our civic processes. I am excited to work with my community in assuring we are better represented and are demanding our seat at the table.
Throughout the month, we experienced a number of trips and panels that have deeply impacted me. One specific excursions this month that has left me quite inspired was our trip to the Clark Atlanta University Art Gallery and the tour with Dr. Maurita Poole. It was an amazing opportunity to tour a space with such rich art and to learn about the history of the pieces through Dr. Poole, Tina Dunkley and the young people we met. Prior to this fellowship, I was thinking about ways to use art education as a tool of teaching resistance. I am deeply interested in making visual and written arts accessible to young people as a way to process their realities as well as honing in on their storytelling capacities. The visit to the museum and the tour left me with all the right questions and answers to further my project in art education.
It is easier to study history through flippant interactions with textbooks. It is much harder when history is alive and surrounds your every step.
Being in Atlanta has also allowed us a great deal of access to historical context that we would not have otherwise. We have had incredible conversations and panels with respected civil rights leaders that have shifted my entire worldview. It is more than a little frightening to find yourself with new beliefs and ideals within the time span of a month. But it is even more frightening to recall a time when you did not have these principles to guide you in this world. It is easier to study history through flippant interactions with textbooks. It is much harder when history is alive and surrounds your every step. The city of Atlanta is holding two different realities, one being the rich past of the civil rights movement and the other being a southern metropolitan ready to take on the world. Through the different issues we’ve discussed such as gentrification, indigenous rights, mass incarceration, Islamophobia and immigration, we’ve seen the massive issues and concerns that face Atlanta. But through speaking with Tiffany Williams Roberts to Nora Benavidez, we’ve also been exposed to the wonderful work being done to change the narrative in Atlanta. From the diversity of perspectives and approaches we’ve been exposed to, I have no doubt that this city is in good hands.
Using restorative justice as a mechanism to have folks reclaim their truths and feel validation from cultivated communities has been powerful work for me.
The question that has been the elephant in the room the entire month has been around the concept of restorative justice. We were tasked with coming to a concrete definition but have left with more questions than answers. The work I do back in the Twin Cities is directly related to restorative justice and yet I have never been able to articulate what it is. I can only say what it feels like and what it looks like. As someone who uses circle storytelling with young people as a form of restorative justice, I can say that I believe in the power of people coming together to heal. The power is always with the people, particularly young people. So using restorative justice as a mechanism to have folks reclaim their truths and feel validation from cultivated communities has been powerful work for me. We’ve discussed the notion of restoring human dignity and allowing individuals to shape their own lives and I strongly believe restorative justice is an important tool in doing so. We can critique restorative justice and the very real shortcomings but we must be able to take away from it the key parts that allow us to shift and change the world.
The Humanity in Action John Lewis Fellowship has given me a new set of tools to use in my line of work.
The Humanity in Action John Lewis Fellowship has given me a new set of tools to use in my line of work. I am walking away with so much more than I arrived, including a newfound community of change makers who’ve changed my worldview. And although I am no closer to grasping a firm definition of restorative justice than I was when I arrived in Atlanta, I have no doubt that I have experienced the healing that occurs only when different people share a common goal of liberation for all. After sharing a space with Dr. Rosalyn Pope for a month, I want to believe that movements don’t die, they just take breaks between generations to regain support and regroup. If the end goal is the same, the revolution must go on. There are so many lessons that I am walking away with and for that I am eternally grateful.