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Steeple Newsletter

Civil Rights History Trip Virtual Style

Once again almost thirty from First Church joined for this year’s “trip.” We didn’t take planes, trains, or automobiles as we have on the past four trips to Alabama, Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. This year we traveled through Zoom with book discussions, video clips, conversations, and a call with the Director and Assistant Director of the Franklinton Center at Bricks. The time was meaningful, inspiring, and profound. Next February over President Day weekend, we hope to travel again. Please mark your calendars and come along. For now in the reflections below, may you get a sense of the trip as our Resident Poet, Julie Fitzpatrick, offers her take on the three day experience.

by Julie Fitzpatrick on February 22, 2021

Greetings all,

Once again almost thirty from First Church joined for this year’s “trip.” We didn’t take planes, trains, or automobiles as we have on the past four trips to Alabama, Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. This year we traveled through Zoom with book discussions, video clips, conversations, and a  call with the Director and Assistant Director of the Franklinton Center at Bricks. The time was meaningful, inspiring, and profound.

Next February over President Day weekend, we hope to travel again. Please mark your calendars and come along. For now in the reflections below, may you get a sense of the trip as our Resident Poet, Julie Fitzpatrick, offers her take on the three day experience.

Civil Rights History Trip Virtual Style, A Reflection by Julie Fitzpatrick

One: Absorbing
We hug Fitz goodbye for the weekend with his dad on the corner of 11th & 53rd in the Big Apple.
We pop back in the truck sorry he’ll not be with us for this-trip-in-quotation-marks but he’d “feel funny on a separate zoom from us,” he’d said and “it won’t be as fun without the other kids.” Couldn’t argue with that, we knew.
So we buckle up and join the Zoom - comforted by the faces in the squares we see of those in our community.
Imagine we were on a trip trip, Ginger begins ...
and we do.
Milton talks of a meal we’d most likely be sharing-
something fried perhaps:
catfish,
grits,
braised greens,
sweet potatoes,
an app of fried pickles-
all topped off with sweet tea and a cobbler.
We’d try this and try that, back when we could do this and that.
We’re quiet as he reads a prayer by Maya Angelou
about Father Mother God,
about love,
about peace.
We talk of movies, books, shows to watch
to learn, to grow, to wake up:
Sandra Bland.
Burden,
Henrietta Lacks,
Complicity,
Caste,
Pauli Murray,
Finding your Roots,
The 1619 Project.
Via video we go first to New Orleans-
The Whitney Plantation there run by John Cummings, a white man determined to look at what we did, what was done right there.
The whole place resurrects history to confront its painful past.
A Senegalese historian, Dr. Seck, culled diaries from auctions and estate sales to find names of slaves now etched into walls, which contain
pieces of their stories from France, Spain, Africa.
We see heads on skinny sticks standing in a pond - strange stems - a haunting artistic representation of those beheaded there - garish lollipops poised above the lily pads.
Statues of children greet us next in a bare room  - eyes hollow - their grotesque innocence grabs me - born into slavery - their posture asks why? why? why?
A descendent of slaves is interviewed.
She was not told for decades that her ancestors were slaves –
were they ashamed, she thinks out loud-
or just trying to protect us?
How we dance from the truth.
How we avoid calling the shots as they are.
How we lie to ourselves and each other.
This happened.
We did this.
Unless we see it and tell it, we can’t heal it.
Next we go to the ICA Museum in Boston.
Nina Chanel Abney’s murals are vivid, dynamic-
the scale of her work breathtaking.
I’m happy as long as people engage and talk, she says.
She wants to start the conversation
and just like that we are quiet.
Taking it all in I think.
Absorbing,
stirring,
stewing,
which is exactly why we came.
We start to open up again about art and expression
Black Lives Matter,
Kara Walker,
Henry Louis Gates.
And then it’s good night to song.
A gospel choir claps us out,
sways us out,
sings us out.
Oh happy day,
Oh happy day,
Jesus washed my sins away.
Pete and I approach Guilford as we soak up their spirit, their smiles.
We click to leave the meeting and drive in the dark past the Bishop’s Apple glowing red for Valentine’s.
Virtual or no, apple to apple, already it’s been quite a trip.

Two: Listening
We say good morning on the screen.
Baby cinnamon rolls were served in Milton’s kitchen today
and he talks of waffles years ago in Montgomery with the gregarious Bud.
He leads us in prayer again this time by W E B Du Bois.
We listen to Stevie Wonder and wonder at the magical dancers performing before us flinging their bodies, flying past one another.
Their limbs loose, surging with raw, honest, invigorating rhythm.
We hear quotes from the voices of Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Beyoncé, Obama, Oprah - the courage, gravitas and awesomeness of their words lingers.
John Lewis and Bryan Stevenson sit for a Ted talk.
Lewis talks of witnessing something that is not right and feeling “a fire burn up his bones” unless he says something, does something, gets into good trouble.
Bryan Stevenson leans towards him saying “yeah yeah yeah.”
His listening is in his eyes, in his mouth, in his whole being.
I am captivated watching him listen-
it is a master class in listening, really.
His ears, his heart, his chin, his eyes melded, melted, mixed into one concentrated act of connection.
What a gift it is to truly listen and to watch it in action.
Something uncoils from inside me,
hearing them hearing each other.
They talk of repentance and redemption and being a force for good.
Then Kehinde Wiley shares his passion for classical artists from whom he takes his inspiration juxtaposing their wigs and pomp with people he meets on the street - they find the poses, the power, the powder they want to evoke and wear and suddenly his canvases pop to life the old, the new, the floral, the fine shining a light on people who were in the shadows now on pedestals in museums on horses in fields.
We listen to John Legend and Common and get a visit from grace as we hear the song Glory.
We glimpse the Franklinton center at Bricks where we’ll go on Monday a plantation that peels back layers to reveal the savagery of slavery and the flickers of beauty that emerge when we don’t hide what came before us.
We are full as lunchtime approaches - full with the beauty of humanity and the heartbreak of history.
And gratitude again for our community as we sojourn on a second day beyond our white skin.
To listen.

Three: Sankofa
Ginger prays for us and all those who have lost loved ones of late.
We head to The Franklinton Center at Bricks in North Carolina by way of our guest hosts Rev. Elly Mendez Angulo and Vivian Lucas.
Welcome home, they say.
At Franklinton we live the journey of Civil Rights, Vivian begins.
On 245 acres.
A property that is in part the remains of a plantation,
a place rooted in slavery and racism,
a place haunted and driven by the current needs and struggles of their surrounding counties
counting on them.
The needs are great:
For education,
for housing,
for health care,
for a car,
for technology.
The digital divide is a gaping hole and Franklinton lays down a bridge.
It is
a prayer space,
a reflection space,
a nourishment space,
a teaching space.
an education, liberation, restoration space.
Sankofa is their logo.
Sankofa is a mythical bird with feet pointing forward and neck tilted back.
Its song says “go back and fetch that which is good.”
That which is sustaining,
that which is whole -
this center fetches that which is good.
Growing crops - not only cash crops not only those that bring in the dough but those that bring about food justice-their vision focuses on ingesting justice - the metaphor fascinates me. Eating justice.
We see baskets of yellow and orange peppers, squash, pumpkins, zucchini, beans - leafy greens.
They are weaving together a respect for the land with a respect for bellies and bodies.
A swimming pool in the distance beckons to a community
learning to swim,
to stay afloat.
There are signs in the space
marking welcome for all genders.
Signs saying
Y’all means all
&
Civil rights are inclusive
&
LGBT rights are civil rights.
Being awake in one way means being awake in all ways, doesn’t it.
Elly says Muslim drivers now stop at the center to pray.
The whole space asks who are you and how can this also be your home?
What do you need as individuals - as groups?
How can we be noble enough, nimble enough, humble enough to bend for what those needs are and offer what we can in response?
(And while we’re at it let’s wash our hands and register to vote.)
Next we hear Trevor Noah and the struggle of
Black women,
Black suffragettes,
Black Civil Rights leaders written out of the history books - out of the stories,
Black sisters silenced:
Sojourner Truth,
Ida B Wells,
Ella Baker,
Diane Nash,
Dorothy Height.
Racism,
sexism
the layers of isms.
Noah says if you don’t know, now you know.
And I think now I know, now what?
We watch clips from One Night in Miami.
Leslie Odom Jr. sings “A Change Gonna Come” while a house burns in the background,
but change gonna come, he cries out.
We close out on compassion and crying too.
The youngest one among us-
video off but ears on-
cries for the end to the divisions in this country.
His cry is a cry of caring,
a cry from hearing all we have heard.
We hold the tears and sign off from our virtual trip
holding onto “Sankofa,”
determined to look back, fetch that which is good, and share it.

Julie Fitzpatrick, 
Click here for Julie's Website

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