Thursday, October 15, 2009

if not you than who....

I have a paper due tomorrow (today) and I have procrastinated {insert sound of shock}~~So, because of my procrastination, I could not do a post AND write a brief 2 to 3 page paper on my trip to the Underground Railroad Freedom Center. I thought I would kill two birds...I just finished it. It is long! But it is what it is~~Until I read over it again later and make a bunch of revisions:)

As you stand at the entrance of the Underground Railroad Freedom Center and look out past the traffic and the construction, what you see before you is the mighty Ohio River; a wide span of water that once separated the slave state of Kentucky from the free state of Ohio. What lies in front of you is the enormous gulf that had to be crossed by slaves to gain what white men took for granted~~freedom. And as you stand on those large stone steps looking out onto the river, envisioning the slaves fleeing from bondage, what stands behind you is the culmination of a vision that began in 1994 by a group, the National Conference of Community and Justice (NCCJ), wanting ‘to give something back to the community in gratitude for its half century of support for our work.’ {http://www.americancatholic.org/messenger/Aug2004/feature1.asp}. After 10 years of planning, fund raising and construction, the NCCJ’s vision was complete. On August 3, 2004, the doors of the Freedom Center opened, welcoming those wanting to know the stories about freedom's heroes, from the era of the Underground Railroad to contemporary times, challenging and inspiring everyone to take courageous steps for freedom today. {Mission Statement, freedomcenter.org}

Having grown up being taught that all people are equal and that we should be judged by our actions not by where we come from or the color of our skin; I entered the slavery exhibits with the same feelings of disgust and puzzlement I had as I walked the grounds of Auschwitz. As I entered the Andersen Slave Pen and envisioned the fear of the 70 men shackled on the upper floor and the women and children below, I wondered how any human could justify the mistreatment of other humans based on the color of their skin. As I read the ledger entries for slaves bought and sold, the letters stating acceptable prices for male and female slaves, and the comparison of the profitability of slaves to corn and wheat, I was appalled by the lack of human decency shown to fellow human beings. As I entered the Circle Gallery, the peacefulness created by the sounds of Amazing Grace being sung was soon overshadowed by the names of slave ships carved into the stone walls~~the realization of the enormity of the slave trade became overwhelming. From the Pavilion of Courage to the Pavilion of Cooperation, I was saddened by the savageness of mankind towards one another and I was uplifted by the strength and bravery shown by those who stood up and fought for freedom for all mankind.

“I am not a racist!” “I would always stand up for the rights of others.” “Everyone is equal.” are phrases I have said many times. They are words I sincerely believe to be true. Having attended a school for 2 years in which I was the minority and taught in a school whose population was entirely African-American, I have never felt that I differentiated between races. Yet, as I walked through the ESCAPE exhibit, as I watched the video, Brothers of the Borderland, and as I was surrounded by the names of those who had selflessly helped others escape, I wondered if I would have been as brave. Would I have stood up for the rights of the slaves? Would I have spoken out against those who owned slaves or would I have condoned the atrocity by remaining silent because of fear? And while it is hundreds of years after the first ships sailed from Africa loaded with human cargo; centuries after humans were placed on auction blocks to be sold like cattle, inequality, racism, and slavery still exist throughout the world. Am I allowing racism to continue today because of my silence or am I a striving to be an everyday freedom hero~~promoting equality for all?

Today, as I walked through the doors of the Freedom Center, I entered a world that made me superior because of the whiteness of my skin. I had rights and privileges simply because I was not black. There was no fear of being shackled, torn away from my family, or branded like cattle. Because of my light skin, I was able to make choices for myself without the fear of brutal force; my life was my own to live. As I stepped back out of the doors of the Freedom Center, I entered a world that sadly still creates a network of superiority based on color, gender, and class. I entered a society that continues to judge others by the color of their skin, or their gender, or their bank account. I entered a world that without tolerance, compassion, and understanding for all human beings will continue to be divided; a world where inequality will continue to prevail. I stepped out of those doors with a choice to remain comfortable and silent or to a conductor for the ‘underground railroad’ of equality.

If not me than who… If not now, than when?

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