Last month, several local residents as well as participants from across the country, deepened their understanding of the enduring impact of systemic racism through “Journey Together,” a three-day facilitated travel experience to the South. The participants gathered again Monday evening, March 21, online and in-person at Oak Park’s Brewpoint, 163 S. Oak Park Ave., to share their thoughts on this transformational experience.
The trip, co-organized by Reesheda Graham Washington, CEO of RGW Consulting and board chair of Race Conscious Dialogues (RCD), and Dot Lambshead Roche, founder and executive director of RCD, included sites essential to the Civil Rights Movement, such as the Martin Luther King Jr. Center and Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL and the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, AL. Participants also walked the Edmund Pettus Bridge at sunset and visited Tuskegee University, the Freedom Riders Memorial and the Legacy Museum as well as other historic sites in the South.
The 22 participants, consisting equally of whites and people of color, were provided ample opportunity to reflect on what they saw, while traveling between cities, through evening debriefs and during communal dinners.
“The point is not just seeing the bricks and mortar of these places that were so instrumental to the Civil Rights Movement, it is understanding that the spirit and energy in these sites, which are engrained in the DNA of Black people, created social transformation,” said Graham Washington.
“It was an intense, immersive experience — and one that was not always comfortable for white participants,” said Susan Lucci of River Forest. “But you have to allow yourself to be vulnerable, uncomfortable in order to shift your perspective. To be in community with others, particularly people of color, during this journey was an amazing experience.”
According to Graham Washington, “Journey Together” was intentionally designed to educate participants about the vastness and complexities of the Civil Rights Movement and to provide them with the agency to create the tangible social change that is still needed.
Phyllis Rubin, a member of Temple Har Zion in River Forest, shared that while she will never know what it is like to be a person of color, she believes that Jews and Blacks have more in common than many people might realize. After crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge, she lit a traditional Yahrzeit candle and recited the Kaddish prayer at the Tomb of the Unknown Slave.
“I learned that there are more than two Americas. I didn’t fully appreciate until this trip that people of color have a whole different experience of the U.S. and that, only in certain places, like Tuskegee, do they feel like they belong and are safe. There is still so much to fight against — and to fight for. I know that I can’t do it all — but I can do something,” she said.
As a Latina, Erika Bachner, a River Forest village trustee and a facilitator for RCD, experienced a profound reckoning during the trip.
“At the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, I saw a timeline showing that Portugal and Spain were the first to bring Black bodies to the Americas. I am still processing the fact that this is part of my past. There is a responsibility that I wasn’t fully aware of before the trip,” she said.
Lambshead Roche said that since returning from the trip, she has been thinking about white solidarity and how to break it, something that RCD tackles through its foundational course.
“Many of us who are members of the white dominant culture have great intentions for moving our community to racial justice but we prioritize comfort over doing the work that is needed to truly create justice. We have to be responsible for our own learning — in ways that don’t harm those experiencing oppression,” she said.
Lauren Collins told the group that after the trip she felt empowered to speak up about inequities in her workplace. “The Journey offered me the opportunity to speak my own truth in front of white people without the whole room exploding,” she said.
“This journey provides a bonding experience that speaks to the power of relationship. It allows us to be present and to galvanize our work around supporting each other. This is what the Movement is about,” said Graham Washington.
You could be next
The next “Journey Together” will be held May 14-16. Applications are due by April 19. White people are strongly encouraged to complete Race Conscious Dialogues’ four-part foundational course or training through RGW Consulting Inc. before applying. This pre-training is designed to deepen awareness of identity, privilege and positionality to power and to help whites develop the tools for anti-racism work.
Another Journey will be held in July specifically for young people between the ages of 12 and 17.