Civil Rights…Tour or Pilgrimage?

6 Oct

What is the difference between a tour and a pilgrimage? The short answer, in this specific instance, is that a pilgrimage is something that changes the person. At the end of the pilgrimage, the person is not the same, s/he is transformed.

This specific instance I am talking about is the Unitarian Universalist Living Legacy Civil Rights Pilgrimage. I am currently in Birmingham, AL, having just about finished the first day: a day of driving to get here, orientation, and, not surprising, I have already shed the first of what I am sure will be many tears.

This is going to be much more than a tour. Yes, we will be going to various Civil Rights sites throughout the South. Yes, I will be learning all sorts of factual information I did not already know. And yet there is so much more that will be happening, both to me and to the other participants.

We will be hearing stories. Stories from some of the people who were involved in many of these events that were so pivotal in the history of our country. Events that all happened before I was even a blip on my parent’s radar, but still are alive in the memories of others. These stories will, in many cases, come directly from the source – first hand accounts. You can’t really beat that. And we will be looking at what we bring – our preconceived notions, our habits, our strengths and gifts.

We started by creating a gift basket – what do we bring to this pilgrimage. I didn’t speak out loud, but I was thinking that I bring wonder, and curiosity. But I also bring intention. The willingness to take risks. To put myself out there. And gratitude, both for this opportunity, and for the foundational work I have done in this area in the past year as a participant in the Healing History Academy.

This work is so important, not becuase it is history, but because it is our present reality. Voter suppression – still an issue. School integration and bussing – still an issue. People being discriminated against, having their rights taken away or denied based on some random factor? Still an issue.

Which is why I found it so fitting that we started with a contemporary civil rights issue. We got to meet with artist Carolyn Scherer. She is a local photographer whose most recent exhibit is called “Living in Limbo, Lesbian Families in the Deep South.” It was on display at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI). To hear her tell the story of how she came to create this exhibit, and how BCRI did the work to make this unique exhibit not only accepted but embraced by the local community was amazing. To see the picture of the 40 foot high title banner that hung on the side of BCRI – a banner that was largely taken up by the image of two women embracing – was absolutely breathtaking.

I can tell that my heart will break a lot on this pilgrimage. Which is a good thing. Because it is those broken places that allow compassion and deeper understanding to seep in. And that is transformative indeed.

One Response to “Civil Rights…Tour or Pilgrimage?”

  1. Annette Marquis October 7, 2012 at 10:01 am #

    Reblogged this on Living Legacy Pilgrimage Reflections and commented:
    The 2012 Living Legacy Civil Rights Pilgrimage begins today. Throughout the week, we’ll be bringing you posts from other pilgrims along the way.

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