“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
-Dr. Martin Luther King
An aphorism brought to light by Dr. Martin Luther King in 1958, the concept of a moral arc has per- haps earned its position as one of our strongest principles during the John Lewis Fellowship of 2018, and rightfully so. It has been a constant reminder that justice and injustice are the two opposing forces of this world since the beginning of time but is also entwined with the prosperous message of fairness, of the inclination of our human nature towards justice, even when times may tell otherwise.
As we will now look back, we will refresh in our memories all the spine-shivering information we have acquired and the boldness of our emotions as we took in the said information.
The JLF 2018 has come to an end and so marks the beginning of a new cycle for the Fellows of this program. It is a cycle of healing, prosperity, and reflection. As we will now look back, we will refresh in our memories all the spine-shivering information we have acquired and the boldness of our emotions as we took in the said information. Every day has been a lesson, Atlanta being the kind and interactive classroom that facilitated us and its people our professors.
We embarked on our journey with an introducing dinner at the historic Paschal’s restaurant, which was a meeting place for key civil rights organizers, including Dr. Martin Luther King. The aura of the room, the significance, the background, it all empowered everyone and made us realize swiftly, we are responsible to continue bending the arc towards justice, or else the wicked would have their time in the sun instead.
With our hearts pulsing along to the rhythm of activism’s drum, we dived into our journey, guided by Dr. Tanya Washington and the staff members.
With our hearts pulsing along to the rhythm of activism’s drum, we dived into our journey, guided by Dr. Tanya Washington and the staff members. During our four weeks in the city of Atlanta, we had the privilege of visiting historic places that signified the future of the city, the country and the world (Paschal’s restaurant, the neighborhood of MLK, Ebenezer Church, Montgomery Museum and Memorial, and more), taking in the energy of these sites and walking through the past with the company of the dead; we came in contact with powerful speakers, whose voices have impacted the world as we knew and as we know it, such as Dr. Roslyn Pope (author of An Appeal for Human Rights), Dr. Carole Anderson, professor Ward Churchill, Judge Renata Turner. A mutual exchange of views, perspectives, experiences, knowledge between speakers and Fellows helped us shape and hone our very own spirits and takes on the world, deepening our understanding, challenging our beliefs, coming into conclusions and settling uncertainties. Most importantly, we had the opportunity to practice what we preach through the numerous workshops involved, enrolling citizens to vote in cooperation with the New Georgia Project, exploring Atlanta’s people and streets through photography with Joshua McFadden, roleplaying council meetings to counter the issue of homelessness with Deborah Scott and attending service at the Ebenezer Church.
The very essence of democracy is found in its need to host infinite of different voices.
The catalyst of our ride and our growth, however, was no one other that the Fellows themselves. Much like a sponge that absorbs water, we initially took in all that came our way from our guest speakers, proceeded to break it down and decode it, assimilate it, then finally add it to our moral compasses. The final stage was to discuss and express opinions over the pressuring matters, the lectures we attended, the ways in which we felt changed or enlightened or frustrated or bewildered or heartbroken or inspired. One thing left to take back home is the different ways every word and every action was perceived by 26 people, the intriguing process of filtering reality and observing the effect it has on us, the vessels of these small, mental treasures. After all, the very essence of democracy is found in its need to host infinite of different voices.
The JLF’s clearest impact can be traced in the changes it has brought to the individual mentalities, the work ethic, the thinking process. In both subtle and not so subtle ways, it has underlined the cultural differences between Europe and America, but also between countries and states. As a result, it was brought to the spotlight the fact the world is so much more beyond the visions of our own, secluded communities. Communication and human interactions, courses of actions, customs, laws; it was necessary for one to digest the spirit of JLF to first sincerely understand our different traits and backgrounds, to broaden our horizons, think twice before speaking, consider new values and ideologies, get accustomed with unfamiliar, in many cases, behaviors. It was not simply our own relationships that were altered, as our professional aspects have been improvised to walk the same path as social justice, with a clearer understanding of world affairs than before. In my own specific case, the case of a journalist and a media communicator, I have banished the subconscious illusion that all humans act in the traditional notions I meet in my own country, helping to make my writing more critical, accurate and representative, whilst spotting biases and prejudices.
Moreover, through the eyes of the JLF, we emphasized and we learned, those who did not know be- fore, there are infinite parallels that can be drawn between places all over the world. The American history by itself is unique and does not have an identical twin, though there is always common ground when putting into comparison with the history of a different location. At first impression, the study of American history may not actually assist in the greater understanding of non-American history; yet in a more complex inspection, such is not the case. Similar behaviors and acts, such as slavery and civil war are to be found across the globe. In-depth analysis of the perpetrators, their environment and their motives simplify history and clarifies its narration, thus leading to a heightened knowledge of the past. And to what does this heightened knowledge contribute? To the future.
As Dr. Anderson taught us, only when we begin to see the pattern can we eventually stop it. Her lecture about voting oppression throughout the history was the perfect example case to back-up her words and show us precisely what was it that she meant.
Speaking of yesterday as a lone practice has no actual purpose. Speaking of yesterday with the intention of shaping tomorrow, on the other hand, is the most effective weapon against the biggest challenges of today. As Dr. Anderson taught us, only when we begin to see the pattern can we eventually stop it. Her lecture about voting oppression throughout the history was the perfect example case to back-up her words and show us precisely what was it that she meant. Once we comprehend the tactics voting suppression has put and continues to put into use to ban specific groups of citizens from participating in the elections, the specific techniques and the people behind them, we can proceed to construct counter-strategies to face this issue. Willingness to assist is meaningless if we do not know from where to start.
Patterns are not limited to voting oppression. Racial discrimination, police brutality, poverty, these are more patterns that persist in repeating themselves again and again, because of perpetrators and bystanders who do not understand the patterns. They are wheels, treadmills or gears, that spin so long as they face no resistance. In 2018, we witness challenges that those before us believed to have been resolved. We continue to watch as people of color, the LGBT, the lower class are being discriminated against, despite the fact less than a century sets us apart from historical civil rights movements.
It is crucial to extend my gratitude to Congressman John Lewis, for not only making this experience available, but for also meeting us in person, and inspiring us with his presence. He is a man that has dedicated his whole life to the cause and even though many in his shoes would have lost all faith, he spoke to us with great motivation, reigniting the flames in our hearts.
The intention is not to undermine their achievement and success, however. The greatest challenge for some of us, if not for everyone, has been reminding ourselves that this thorough study of human rights in the past and the present does not aim to burn down our hopes and dreams, our expectations and our motivation. It is an easy to fall victim to the trap and to believe that, in the end, all efforts have no significance because humanity will continue to breed the same injustice through time. This Fellowship aimed to keep us grounded to reality, to show us the “struggle” is never truly over, to equip us with the knowledge and the tactics and the network that will allow us to continue fighting the good fight better than before, more prepared than before. In this point of this essay, it is crucial to extend my gratitude to Congressman John Lewis, for not only making this experience available, but for also meeting us in person, and inspiring us with his presence. He is a man that has dedicated his whole life to the cause and even though many in his shoes would have lost all faith, he spoke to us with great motivation, reigniting the flames in our hearts.
This is the conclusion of my reflection and my reminiscing about this past month, that nothing is truly over. It is a never-ending fight, but not one we fight alone. There are people in this world that have proven, and continue to prove, nothing is truly impossible once we function as a unit, which is what this Fellowship was all about: uniting 26 people from all over the world.
Some days have been darker than others.
But better times there have been, and will be again. If we fight to see those days.