This month I will be writing from the road as I travel the United States’ South and Midwest and Western Ontario Canada first at the Brown Family Reunion and then touring with Inland Empire educators and parents on the Black Voice Foundation Underground Railroad Field Study Tour. Please join me this summer on the road…
Every summer for the past 15 years I have helped lead a group of educators and others on a study tour of the Underground Railroad, one of America’s greatest freedom movements. The tour was created by my mother Assembly member Cheryl Brown 19 years ago, and over the years we have guided over 600 people from Kentucky to Canada following a probable route of early American freedomseekers. This year we are leading close to 100 teachers, administrators, school board members, school support staff, and even parents from four Southern California school districts on two tours through four states and two countries.
During the week on the road, participants learn that this is a history of the Americas, not just America, or White America or Black America. They learn there is no reason for one group to feel guilt or the other to feel shame. They learn that goodness comes in all races and genders and courage in all ages. They learn that the human spirit seeks freedom and there were people – good people – willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for that freedom for themselves as well as others. They are transformed by this knowledge and return to our Inland schools ready to transform others.
Here are some of the reflections from only the first few days, accompanied by the photography of Steven James Collins, who is documenting the journey for a photography book commemorating the upcoming 20th anniversary of the tour:
“I knew that this journey would prove to be emotional. I had no idea that I would feel the emotion on the first day…My goal is to share the truth of all that I experience. I want to walk the trails of those that suffered so that I can enjoy the freedoms of my present life! Thank you for this opportunity to step back into history while looking forward.” (Kimberly)
“We have a lot of work to do to catch-up with the past.” (Denise)
One of the main themes today during my experience with Footsteps to Freedom was the fact that we are all interconnected. When I realized that I AM you and you are me, I will treat you as a person and not as an object. In the ancient Meso-America civilization there is a word similar to this concept. The word means you are my other ME. What I do to you…I do to me. If I love you. I love myself…If I hurt you, I’m hurting myself. It’s all a circle.
All photographs taken by Steven James Collins.