For a group of seven students, issues of race – past and present – became the focus of a Justice Journey taken during spring break in the South.
“Race is still a critical issue, but we’re not talking about it well,” says Dr. David Creech, the trip advisor and an assistant professor of religion. “We like to pretend that racism doesn’t exist because we have laws. But the laws don’t fix attitudes of discrimination.”
With a destination of Atlanta, the group stayed two nights in Ferguson, Mo. The suburb of St. Louis was not only a halfway point but also a modern spotlight of racial turmoil in national media.
What they found surprised them. Colorful street art featured doves and rainbows. Images promoting peace and community building covered boarded-up windows. A man named David stood watch over stuffed animals, flowers and hats that marked the place where Michael Brown was shot near Canfield Green Apartments.
“The media portrays Ferguson as wild, but really it looks like Anytown, USA,” says Katharine Spencer '15.
From Ferguson, the group traveled through Memphis, Tenn., and Birmingham, Ala., visiting monuments of the Civil Rights Movement that included the Lorraine Motel, the location of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and current home of the National Civil Rights Museum.
“It was eye opening to see the places from TV news and also those places from the history books firsthand,” Spencer says.
Even more than the sites of historical significance, the students were most moved by the people they met and spoke with along the way. In particular, they were impacted by meeting two young black female activists – Alexis Templeton, 21, of Ferguson, and Elle Lucier, 19, of Atlanta.
The Concordia students learned from these young activists that anyone can make a difference. The goal of activism is not to solve a problem all in one day, but to start conversations.
The Justice Journey allowed the group to study issues of race they might never experience or recognize on campus.
“There is something about place that brings context to learning,” says Spencer.
Although the group is now back in Moorhead, they say the impact is definitely not over yet: they still have a lot to process and want to gather their thoughts about how to use what they have learned to make a change.