DarrinThe first time I was tear-gassed was in Ferguson, Missouri. It was 2014. I was peacefully protesting.

Since then I have been grappling with one question: How do I get involved? After all, I stood in my hometown of Ferguson and witnessed protesters and police clash. Then, I walked into a classroom where my students asked me where was God when little Black boys and girls were gunned down in the street? I didn’t have the answer for them, but I felt like I wasn’t doing enough to (1) get the answer or (2) prevent the question from needing to be asked. My one question—prompted by my activism in Ferguson—birthed another question: How do I see God in the movement?

I haven’t yet gotten the answer, but I do have the action. We must all GET ON THE BUS!

group“Get on the bus” turned into our battle cry as we journeyed from Georgia into Alabama on this annual tour, sponsored by Civil Rights leaders and SCLC Women Inc. It brings together a diverse group of folks from academics to activists and some who identify as both. We pilgrimaged from downtown Atlanta to Selma for the anniversary of when protesters and police clashed—Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965.

It was a crisp early Saturday morning in downtown Atlanta. A mix of young and old, brown and white, quietly filed into three buses that lined Auburn Avenue, taking in the darkness that surrounds dawn. Forward we moved, out of Atlanta and into Alabama. Our first stop? Birmingham.

sixteenthThere we stood in the presence of 16th Street Baptist Church, where four little girls were assassinated in 1963. In this same historic section of Birmingham we explored Kelly Ingram Park, where dogs were first used to harass and attack protesters. Our last stop here was the Civil Rights Institute. Throughout the tour, I couldn’t help but ask questions (that’s just what I do). I asked the other sojourners if they had been to Birmingham before. Many shared that this was their first time not only in Birmingham, but also in this part of the United States.

Why were we here? Why were we “on the bus”?

As our journey progressed, our tour leaders called upon us to share why we got “on the bus.” These were some of the very people who risked their lives for desegregation and voting rights—and they wanted to know why we showed up to Auburn Avenue at 6:00 a.m. We spoke of blackness and whiteness, being both native born and immigrants simultaneously, lies in the classroom and lies in the streets, we spoke of justice and peace, we spoke of God. Before we knew it, we could feel the bus growing; it felt like community.

corettaThen we got to Marion, Alabama.

We got out of the bus on a dirt road. In front of us stood a quiet home touched by both Father Time and Mother Nature. The shutters were torn and falling down, the house was grey and leaning as if it were proving its weariness. Next to the home stood an old grocer. “This is where she was born,” one man said.

“Who?” I blurted out.

“Coretta Scott King,” he said.

signI stopped to take in the moment with delight, but there was something that caught me off-guard. Across the street from the house was a sign declaring to all who drove by that this was a progressive road, “The Coretta Scott King Highway.” The sign was riddled with bullet holes. This paradox brought me back to reality; we have yet a ways to go. I turned and got on the bus.

By nightfall we reached our destination. The Civil Rights Movement had derailed Selma, a small town that was once projected to be a hub of rapid economic growth and opportunity. It was here I learned the power of history; it’s not just teachable, but transformative. As I walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, I felt the burden of those who carried it on Bloody Sunday. This moment, alongside Emory students, faculty, staff and thousands of protesters from around the world, empowered me to my core. We stood on the same bridge where hundreds of clergy, activists, and marchers clashed with police.

group2It was standing with my friends here in this moment that I really understood why I got on the bus. I got on the bus because they did. Those protesters in Selma started the bus, fixed it when it was broken, added seats, and always pushed it forward. I knew I had to bring Selma home with me.

Now it’s our turn.

The torch has been passed to us and the bus placed in our possession. Regardless of career field, profession or amount of melanin in our skin, we have a duty to make history transformative for every corner of society.  For immigrants who are told they don’t belong: Get on the bus. For women who are told that their body is not their own: Get on the bus. For anyone who has been marginalized or just wants to be in the business of “getting everybody free”: Get on the bus.

Read another reflection on the Heritage Tour by first-year MDiv student Antavius Franklin.