The National Memorial for Peace & Justice

This past week I stopped by the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice on my way to the Florida Panhandle and spent an hour or so at this new memorial that honors the thousands of Americans who lost their lives to racial violence throughout the US in terrorizing public lynchings. The memorial has a museum component located a few blocks away, both are self-guided and rich in both history and historical context. I learned about the new memorial during a 60 Minutes profile a year ago, and it’s been on my list of places to see ever since.

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Montgomery is one of those special places in America that you don’t always hear about travelers flocking to in droves, but I personally consider it one of the must-have stops in America for anyone who wishes to understand race in America and the enduring spirit of the Black American. It’s hard to name all of the incredible places in this city. Just a few blocks off the last I-85 exit in Montgomery you’ll find the EJI Memorial, sitting on a quiet hill that overlooks the city.

Across the street from the memorial is a gift shop where you can purchase memorabilia and tickets. There are also restrooms and a moving display of jars that contain dirt from the site of lynchings located throughout the state of Alabama. There are 294 jars.

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Once you enter the memorial, you are greeted by a harrowing work of art: bronze statues of an enslaved family, which Memorial staff requests that you not take selfies with. Along the wall opposite the memorial are poignant plagues detailing how the racial landscape in America shifted from slavery to the violent, terroristic climate that gave way to public lynchings, and the damaging psychology of white supremacy that fueled it.

 

While I haven’t visited every historical place of this kind, I have been on numerous tours of plantations, museums and other historical places dedicated to slavery or racial injustice and I can say without question that the EJI Memorial has achieved an unparalleled balance of truth, compassion, and understanding. The memorial confronts the true intention and impact of these events in a way that takes you far beyond the traditional “the South used to be really mean to Black people” narrative that is so often fed to us on these kinds of tours.

 

Before I go into the memorial itself, it’s helpful to explain how the EJI got started. Acclaimed public interest attorney Bryan Stevenson founded EJI as a young lawyer working with marginalized communities. His commitment to changing the narrative around race led to a massive research project completed by Stevenson and his staff to document as many lynchings as possible. The current number totals more than 4000, with hundreds more believed to be undocumented.

This work required the team to comb through thousands of photographs, newspaper clippings, and more to locate these horrific events that occurred throughout the Deep South, into the West and north of the Mason-Dixon between 1877 and 1950. The EJI’s memorial for peace and justice is the first prominent public memorial honoring and remembering all the lives lost during America’s treacherous years of lynching that terrorized an entire race of people.

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Back to the memorial, the site is quite a memorable visual to see from afar, and as you walk up the path approaching the actual memorial you are confronted with large, somewhat crude rectangular blocks, almost rusted in nature, inscribed with the counties, dates, and names of victims who were lynched. There are almost no words to describe how awe-struck and devastating the pillars are.

 

Beneath each pillar is the county name and state. They are held up by steel bars. When you enter the memorial, the pillars rest on the ground, where you can weave in between them at eye level, but as you walk further into the memorial the pillars rise, reminiscent of a hanging. They eventually reach a level where you can only look up, but the inscriptions are too high to decipher.

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IMG_1190Near the end of the memorial are a beautiful affirmation and a wall with running water. As I rounded the corner, the impact of the memorial truly hit me. It just felt like so many names. On some of the pillars were the names of entire families. Sometimes it was simply written “unknown,” or a person’s name and the name of someone related to them, “Child of *Insert Name*” or “Wife of This Person.”

IMG_1182I found myself looking for places I’ve lived or counties that were familiar, and not even a few minutes into walking the memorial I spotted the pillar for Clarke County, Mississippi, where my paternal family is from and there, along with two men, all lynched on the same fateful day, were two Houses: Alma and Maggie. I stopped in my tracks as I realized there was a huge possibility they were related to me. It instantly brought a sobering realization to the experience as I took in names and dates, understanding that there are probably few families in America untouched by these tragic crimes. To further bring context to the act of lynching, along the walkway are small signs that provide a sample of the “reasons” some of the victims were lynched:

  • frightening a white girl
  • suing a white man for killing his cow
  • standing around in a white neighborhood
  • speaking disrespectfully about white people
  • voting
  • inappropriate conduct with a white woman
  • organizing black voters

There were woman and men, children and elderly among the names, for reasons that made no sense at all, but seeing the actions that triggered these events seemed so eerily similar to our current social griefs.

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Upon exiting the memorial is another set of statues, one that pays homage to today’s victims of racial injustice and brutality, and another that honors the Black women of Montgomery who stood at the helm of movements like the bus boycott to ensure the validity of our freedoms. In the face of terror and injustice, there has always been a stronger, undying faith in freedom and a commitment to fight for it that reminds us, after reviewing such heavy history and pondering such heavy truths, that we should not give up, by any means. Fighting for justice has never been a battle fought in vain.

 

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The memorial is not a static one – there are identical pillars lined alphabetically outside the memorial waiting for the counties they represent to claim and install them in their respective areas, as a way to measure what parts of the country have confronted and reconciled with this dark history. It is not easy to discuss or ascertain, but we have to. I found the county I live in now, with more names than I care to admit.

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IMG_1203There’s a beautiful garden outside the memorial that uplifts your spirits. It’s hard not to smile as you walk past the beautiful array of flowers and peruse the fun gems tucked within the garden. I only had time to see the Memorial (on average visitors spend about an hour, which is pretty accurate), but hopefully, I will have a chance to see the museum too. This place is such a labor of love and I’m truly grateful to all those who have done the tireless and trying work of bringing this history together and giving us knowledge and hope that we can take with us.

It’s really not easy to talk about these things because as an African-American it can hurt, offend and traumatize. I can imagine for those Caucasian visitors I passed it can be a great time of understanding and also a heavy weight as you figure out how to respond, how to react, where to go from here. It’s a question we ask whenever we leave a place like this. It’s important to Never Forget, and it’s also important to face reality. It is dishonest to believe in the idea of America and not be outraged by its offenses and the limitations of its ideals. As Stevenson says,

“Our nation’s history of racial injustice casts a shadow across the American landscape. This shadow cannot be lifted until we shine the light of truth on the destructive violence that shaped our nation, traumatized people of color, and compromised our commitment to the rule of law and to equal justice.”

The EJI believe this confrontation is the first step towards recovery and reconciliation, and I couldn’t agree more. We cannot heal what we do not see and feel with our own hearts and minds. I was literally moved to tears walking through the memorial, but I was not disheartened. On the contrary, I felt more powerful and sure of my identity. In the words of Elizabeth Alexander,

“You will find us where you left us, but not as you left us.”

 

You can purchase tickets for the EJI Museum and Memorial here.

Two Hours in Montgomery

Last week I visited the state of Alabama (my 20th state visited) for the very first time and found it to be surprisingly flat. However, driving through Montgomery it was clear that there was so much to see and I can’t wait to return to this storied place. It’s not ironic at all that the birthplace of the bus Boycott was also once the Cradle of the Confederacy, and just a block from the towering white pillars of the State Capital building site the Dexter Ave. King Memorial Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once pastored and where the bus boycott was organized and planned.

We made a pit stop in Montgomery for about an hour and 15 minutes (two sounds better for a title :)) on our way to an art show in Gulf Breeze, FL. I highly recommend visiting this historic site. Dr. King’s desk and podium are there (actor David Oyelowo, who portrayed King in Selma, left an autograph) and we had the nicest tour guides in the world who greeted us warmly with hugs.

Take a look at my photo essay below with some highlights from the visit:

 

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The original Alabama Judicial building preserved by glass across the street from the church. 

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from the African American Heritage Hymnal

My Trip to Austin!!!!

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Hellloooooooo. It has been a minute, and for good reason. I’m excited to fill you in on some of my excursions from the past month! You may remember that I was participating in the Burnout challenge sponsored by Gwee Gym (based in Houston) earlier this year. Let me give you a little background story.

Last year, after watching the Olympics, I tweeted that I wanted a body like 400m sprinter Natasha Hastings, and got super psyched that she “liked” it.

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I screenshot it, of course lol

 

Screenshot 2017-10-23 at 6.40.48 PMFast forward to this spring when Natasha announced a contest presented by Gwee Gym. To enter, you had to purchase the Burnout by Gwee Gym fitness program and follow it for 8 weeks! The 3 participants with the best results would win an all-expense paid trip to Austin, TX to meet Natasha Hastings and appear on her Tea Time vlog.

At the time, I was looking to gain muscle and lose some belly fat. A chance to meet my favorite track athlete seemed like perfect motivation! So I got started. 18422978_1847789121901611_1836423575890360148_o

Boy, was I in for a surprise. The Burnout program is basically a HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workout that trains every part of your body and uses plyometrics to increase your heart rate. I’ve personally never followed a fitness program for more than a week or two and never worked with a personal trainer, so when I tell you I was hurting, I was HURT. Burnout is no joke, you will sweat more than you have in your entire life, even if you’re not a big sweater, but the results are outstanding. I’ve gotten 3 other people to try Burnout and they’ve all seen slimmer, fitter frames with inches lost.

The Gwee Gym Pro is the device we used for the challenge, which is a pretty ingenious system that allows you to perform normal drills and exercises like push-ups and squats with resistance, so you can build muscle definition. The Burnout program is a 5-day set of videos led by trainer Rich Winley that takes you through 35-50 minutes of grueling workout (always bookended by warm-ups and cool-downs of course!). 

Mandatory photo check-ins helped me keep up with my progress and I was amazed at how much my body transformed from completing workouts and changing my eating habits (more water, less sugar!). The best part of the challenge was making new friends in the participant Facebook group, where we encouraged each other and posted selfies of our workouts to stay accountable.

The challenge ended in July. I immediately celebrated with the biggest cup of ice cream I could find, and in August I got an e-mail saying I was a winner!!

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Last week, I finally got to travel to Austin. The plane ride itself was an adventure (it was my first time flying in a post 9/11 world and by myself, so that’s a whole blog in itself). I landed in ATX just after 10am, and came face to face with some good ol’ Texas humidity. I met up with the other winners and took the shuttle to our hotel where we met the awesome Burnout team who would be our tour guides for the rest of the day. On the way, we saw a field of real-life longhorns–which I totally freaked out about and didn’t get a picture of, so I definitely have to go back now.

First stop: Lunch at Casa Maria where we chatted, ate amazing Mexican food and met Natasha (and her brother)

Second stop: Ignite Fitnez, the one and only gym you HAVE to visit if you plan on working out in South Austin. They have an amazing facility just outside of the city center with tons of great equipment. They were gracious enough to loan us their space while we taped testimonials (Natasha was impressed with my delivery *faints*) and provided these comfy tees we’re rocking in the photo below.

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On our way to the last location, Natasha offered to chauffeur us in her beautiful Audi named Cocopuff. Best. Ride. Ever.

Final stop: Galvanize, a co-op and networking campus situated in Downtown Austin at the heart of the 2nd St. District’s tech mecca, where companies like IBM, Indeed and Google are located. We filmed our Tea Time vlog episode here and had a perfect Boomerang photo op. This is another go-to space if you’re in Austin. And I must say, the lighting here is something serious 😉

It’s sad to think this amazing day had to come to an end, but it did 😦 We said our goodbyes to Natasha, returned to the hotel, shed mini crocodile tears with the Burnout team and checked in to our rooms.

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We were in town during the second week of the famous Austin City Limits Music Festival, so the town was buzzing with people. We explored 6th Street that evening and stopped at Voodoo Donut (proof that everything is indeed bigger in Texas). Our pedicab driver was Spider-Man, and who doesn’t love Spider-Man?

The official motto of the city is “Keep Austin Weird,” and after my experience, I can confirm the city is indeed a bit weird, but with some of the nicest people, I’ve met (although everyone’s probably pretty nice when you tell them you’re from out of town). I would describe 6th Street at Franklin St. on steroids if you’ve ever been to Chapel Hill, or diet Bourbon St. for all the NOLA fans out there.

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I had an early flight out, so after waking up at like 5am I said my goodbyes to the city of Austin and headed back to the airport to return home. A lot can happen in 24 hours, and this is by far the most fun I’ve had in awhile. So grateful for the experiences, friendships, connections and memories I made in Austin, and for the Gwee Gym Pro that started it all.

September Photo Tour

Happy Birthday USA

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Tomorrow is Independence Day. That means food, family, fireworks, and flags. The Fourth of July is my favorite holiday after Thanksgiving and Christmas. I love thinking about the rich and vibrant history of our nation, I love singing the national anthem. This month’s upcoming Olympic Games has only increased my sense of pride. One of the best places to spend the Fourth is Washington, DC. That’s where I went this past weekend. While the city was beautiful as always, the weather was quite extreme.

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Most of the East Coast was riddled by 100+ degree temperatures and severe hurricane-like thunderstorms. Millions of people lost power in the storms and over a dozen people lost their lives. In fact, the hotel where I stayed lost power. Despite this tragic news, the trip was a lot of fun. Here are some highlights.

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Wild and Wonderful

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I spent two days in Charleston, West Virginia. This was my first time visiting in one whole year, so to say the least I was very excited. Most of my immediate family on my dad’s side lives there. Charleston is a nice small city where everyone knows everyone and people are very nice. I have always felt at home there. Continue reading

2012 Summer To-Do List

  1. Visit WV
  2. Visit DC and see Titanoboa
  3. Go see Batman
  4. Go to the beach
  5. Play 18 holes
  6. Get my eyebrows done
  7. Read 5 books
  8. Make a strawberry shortcake
  9. Go to a Durham Bulls game
  10. Pick a major
  11. Finish my scrapbook
  12. Complete a red model car
This is my list of the twelve things I would like to do before my summer ends. No, they aren’t resolutions. They are real activities I desire to finish in a timely manner. As I check off each item on my list I will post a story about everything that happened. Some of the items on the list will be new experiences (going to a Durham Bulls game, getting my eyebrows waxed), some are ongoing (picking a major, finishing my scrapbook) and others are old pastimes (golfing, reading, visiting family). Continue reading