American South #7: Appreciation

Trip leader James Perry, expresses gratitude in a final reflection of the American South travel program.

As I sit here watching the snow fall in what I hope is our last snowstorm of the season, I am reflecting back on the journey we just completed through time (1641 – 2023) and space (Georgia – Alabama – Tennessee). Although it is my second such pilgrimage, it is my first with this group of students and adults. The one word that keeps jumping to the forefront of my mind is ‘appreciation’; appreciation for the courage my African ancestors displayed while enduring the suffering, pain and humiliation caused by their status as enslaved people and in finally discarding the shackles of slavery; appreciation for the allies who aided them during a struggle which took far longer than it should have; appreciation for my African-American ancestors who, although granted their freedom from slavery by virtue of the 13th Amendment, were forced to continue to fight for a recognizable place as equals in the society built in large part from the toil of their labor through Reconstruction and Jim Crow; appreciation for my Black American ancestors who had the courage, intelligence and perseverance necessary to secure the badges of citizenship that were promised to all, but granted to few, arguably the most important of which is the right to vote; and finally, appreciative of the opportunity to take this individual journey with a collection of students and adults who gave of their time, their thoughts, their feelings and emotions as they too took their own individual journey through this time and space to find meaning in our past and inspiration for our future.

I appreciate the opportunity that Deerfield has provided all of us to expand our education, and the potential impact on our world that our learning represents, beyond Western Massachusetts. My fellow travelers and I were striving to model the practice of ‘Radical Empathy’ during this experience. As my colleague Leah Moore explained to us all during our workshop in Atlanta, “Radical Empathy is actively striving to better understand and share the feelings of others. To fundamentally change our perspectives from judgmental to accepting, in an attempt to more authentically connect with ourselves and others.” Whether it was through our service project at Hugs & Hope, or through our conversation with the co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (‘SNCC”) and Freedom Rider Dr. Bernard Lafayette, Jr. and his wife Katherine, or through our tours through several churches which served as mass meeting places for civil rights planning sessions and museums dedicated to preserving and educating us all about this important American History, our students gained a deeper understanding of, and connection to, our collective past. This trip was educational, this trip was emotional, this trip was affirming, and this trip was necessary. Thank you Bea, Paulina, David, Leah, Annie and Terry! Your support, guidance and leadership made this trip possible, and unforgettable.

To the 12 students who gave of their time and of themselves to share in this experience, I’ll ask you the same question I asked after we crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, the site of Bloody Sunday…. “House Plant or Field Crop?”.