The following post was written by Rowan Van Ness, a UUCSJ trip leader currently on the 2012 Civil Rights Journey.

When we visited Selma and marched silently across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, I thought about the civil-rights marchers who were brutally beaten there on Bloody Sunday. I thought about the ministers who gathered there from across the country to march for equal voting rights. James Reeb, a Unitarian Universalist minister who lost his life, was among them. I asked myself: would I have marched?

As I walked across the bridge, I felt shivers run through me, despite the 95-degree weather and the sweat dripping down my back. I can’t even begin to imagine how much courage it must have taken to march across that bridge, on each and every attempt. I thought about the beautiful, solid structure of this bridge — and of the structures that continue to uphold racism and oppression, even to this day. When do we perceive oppressive structures as beautiful and comfortable?

Most of the justice work I’ve done thus far has been for environmental justice. I’ve looked at how the environmental impacts of the individualism and consumerism that weave the threads of the American Dream have a disproportionate impact of people of color. Who, even today, is most likely to live in Cancer Alley, where plastics are made? Who, even today, is more likely to live near a dump? Or have their water shut off?

James Reeb died for a movement that wasn’t his — because it actually was his. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” What role do we have as Unitarian Universalists today in uncovering justice issues and shining a spotlight on those doing this work? What is our role in doing this work? Will we have the courage to answer the call for justice?

Questions about the Civil Rights Journey? Contact us about this and more service-learning opportunities.

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