Sarah Rothenberger - Civil Rights Pilgrimage Breaker, January 2020
From January 4th through the 11th, I joined fellow Alvernia students, as well as students from Nazareth College in New York, on a week that would open my eyes to so much of our nation’s history that I never knew. The Civil Rights Pilgrimage took us on the week long journey starting in Birmingham, Alabama. We traveled to many places that carry significance for the civil rights movement, including Montgomery, Selma, Jackson, and Memphis, to name a few. I had the opportunity to hear from many civil rights veterans – the people who spent their childhood fighting for their freedom and continue to be advocates to this day. Additionally, I learned names I had never heard before, learned about important events and protests I had never known about, and gained a better understanding of some of the terrible injustice many people of color faced during the civil rights movement.
While the entire pilgrimage was filled with experiences that have left lasting impacts on me, I think our time in Selma left the largest impact. While in Selma we spoke to Ms. Joanne Bland, a civil rights activist who experienced Bloody Sunday, as well as many other events in the civil rights movement. She shared many stories from her childhood, about how it felt to grow up in the segregated south, and what it felt like to fight for her right to vote. She encouraged us all to do our part, to stand up for others, and to never be a silent witness to injustice. After speaking with her, we silently crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge. We were encouraged to think of the type of world we would like to live in while we did. The entire time I crossed I was continuously praying for a world where the dignity of each life is preserved, where people are treated in an equitable manner, and where race, gender, ability, age, etc. does not define what level of success you can reach.
Perhaps one of the biggest takeaways I have from this pilgrimage is that everyone has their own gifts and skill sets that can be used to make the world a better place. The civil rights movement is often remembered by the big names, all of whom are important, but so many of the civil rights veterans were ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. As long as we all use the gifts God has granted us in purposeful ways, we can all make the world a better place. The fight for peace and justice is one that is ever growing, but with hard work and persistence we can do so much to help others. I am forever thankful for the opportunity to learn about such an important piece of our history from those who were there to witness it first-hand. This pilgrimage truly emphasized the importance of seeking truth in our history, even if it is not all good. We owe it to ourselves and to our future children to remember these events and the names of those impacted so that justice and equity can be achieved.