Slavery hasn't stopped, but only evolved -- JeNai Turner, WIT Young Leader
Women in Training, Inc. kicked off its 2023-2024 Civil Rights Experiential Learning Tour Series on December 2, 2023, with a guided tour of the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Center: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration. Patricia Ray, Ed.D, and Ms. Kimberly Pierce, Montgomery Public Schools teachers who were trained by Bryan Stevenson, Founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, and his staff, facilitated the four-hour experience.
Dr. Ray, whose daughters, Ashlyn and Jordan Spooney, are Monarchs in the WIT Leadership Development Academy, led the EJI tour.
"Montgomery, one of the original ports to usher in domestic enslavement, serves as the perfect opportunity for a community to heal through the lens of truth-telling, incontrovertible reconciliation with our past, unyielding commitments to an embraced culture, the decriminalization of the African American culture, and the hope that future generations will experience the authentic dreams of our ancestors."Dr. Ray said.
She continued: "Bryan Stevenson and the EJI are doing a tremendous job illuminating the truth and encouraging social and political action amongst youth. I have hope, through this work, that Montgomery will provide the fertile grounds to incubate a culture reflective of all its citizens that exponentially grows as the nation’s model."
Ms. Pierce, the tour co-facilitator, simply and wisely stated: "Teaching is my catalyst to the present weapons of mass destruction. Education rules the world!"
Alabama State Senator Merika Coleman gave words of encouragement to the WIT tour group during lunch at Pannie-George Kitchen, the soul food restaurant on the museum grounds. Sen. Coleman, who is the youngest senator in Alabama, said young people must accept leadership roles in the community today.
"While you cannot vote, you could encourage your parents and family members to be actively involved in the electoral process," Sen. Coleman said. "What happens in legislative bodies today affect the quality of your lives tomorrow."
Breanna Bennett, one of the 16-year-old twin sisters who founded Women in Training, chimed in: "I encourage everyone to read Bryan Stevenson's book, Just Mercy, if you need further inspiration on why it is urgent for young people to get involved in social justice. Or, watch the film starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx!"
Brooke Bennett, the other WIT Co-founder, said the most haunting part of the Equal Justice Initiative experience was listening to a rendition of "Strange Fruit," the blues song made popular by Billie Holiday that described the Southern tradition of lynching Black women, men and children.
Women in Training board members who participated in the EJI tour included Ms. Elizabeth Johnson Sellers, Board Secretary and Communications Chairwoman; Ms. Kimberly Brown, Chairwoman of the Strategic Planning and President's Volunteer Service Award committees; Brooke and Breanna Bennett, Founders; and Ms. Adeyela and Mr. Bradley Bennett, President and Vice President.
Ms. Brown actively participates in the WIT Leadership Development Academy workshops.
"A visit to the Legacy Museum shows us living history," Ms. Brown said. "After this experience, one cannot ignore the straight line from the trafficking of Africans to American shores to mass incarceration and to the economic inequities that exist today."
WIT Monarch JeNai Turner, a junior at Brewbaker Technology Magnet School, participates in a special program between the Equal Justice Initiative and Montgomery Public Schools.
"This experience taught me alot about the history of African-American people," JeNai said. "It taught me that knowledge is the key to everything and that slavery hasn't stopped, but only evolved." We have to stay educated and rise above the standards they they set for us!"
Ms. Danielle Hogan joined her daughter, WIT Monarch Chassidy Hogan, for the EJI tour.
"The EJI museum was such an eye-opening experience," Ms. Hogan said. "Our ancestors endured so much. I left feeling extremely proud of my heritage! It's an experience that everyone should make a priority."
Her daughter, a sophomore at Park Crossing High School, agreed.
"I enjoyed everything about the EJI museum," Chassidy said. "It filled in the gaps of everything I learned in History class. I am standing on the shoulders of my ancestors, and I will make them proud."
WIT Monarch Savannah Williams brought her grandmother, Ms. Marjorie Lynn Bowden with her for the Civil Rights tour.
"Each time I visit the Museum, there is something different that captures my attention and then I have even more questions," said Savannah.
Her grandmother agreed.
"A visit to the Museum is not to be missed," Ms. Bowden said. "During this visit, I imagined hearing souls crying out from the soils from lynching sites. It is surely an emotional journey throughout the Museum."
Ms. Kim Caldwell accompanied her daughter, WIT Monarch Kacie Caldwell, on the EJI experience. Other family members joined them, as well. Ms. Caldwell was instrumental in coordinating the tour experience.
"Visiting the Legacy Museum was such a great experience," Ms. Caldwell said. "The tour was very informative, intriguing and emotional. It highlighted the obstacles our ancestors had to endure and reminds us that there's so much more work to do to receive the equal justices we deserve."
Ms. Eman Farrior, a graduate student at the Morehouse School of Medicine, said she appreciated the opportunity to participate in the WIT Civil Rights tour.
"I am very appreciative that I had the opportunity to experience the EJI museum with Dr. Patricia Ray serving as a facilitator throughout the tour," Ms. Farrior said. "Gaining this experience and hearing from Dr. Ray gave me a new perspective on what our ancestors endured and how the traumas from their experiences still impact our community today in significant ways."
Enjoy photos from the first EJI tour; the National Memorial for Peace and Justice does not allow photos of the exhibits.
The next stop in the WIT Civil Rights experiential learning tour series will be the EJI’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice, followed by tours to Birmingham, Mobile and Selma. Previous tours included the Mothers of Gynecology Museum, the Southern Poverty Law Center's Civil Rights Memorial Center, Gee's Bend and the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Women in Training, Inc. welcomes donations to help develop students into culturally competent leaders who care about themselves and the world around them.