By Conference Minister Diane Weible
This is the fifth part in a series about impressions and thoughts from the trip I took to Alabama with the other Conference Ministers in November. We visited Civil Rights sites in Selma, Montgomery and Birmingham.
At one of the museums in Birmingham, in a glass case, was the pocketbook and shoes from 11-year-old Denise McNair, one of the victims of the bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963. I stood looking at that glass case for a long time. I was picturing Denise arriving at church that morning and carrying her purse, dressed in her beautiful dress and shoes, laughing with her friends and reaching in to her pocketbook for her handkerchief. And, I cried because I could see her and her friends and felt the depth of the loss—loss of life and loss of promise because some people decided black lives don’t matter.
Rarely does a day go by that I don’t think about what I saw in that glass case. Before I saw those items I knew of the bombing and I shook my head at the horrific nature of this act of terrorism. Earlier that day I sat in the sanctuary of the church as I heard the re-telling of the events of that horrible day when four young girls were victims of senseless acts of terrorism and white supremacy. I felt the pain of that day and the mark it has left permanently on our society and how it is important that we never forget lest we allow it to happen again.
Later, as I stood in front of that glass case, looking at the items that Denise carried in her hand and wore on her feet the impact hit me in a way that has become a part of me—not just of my understanding but also embodied within me.
We need such symbols if we are going to understand the depth of pain and the scars that racism and white supremacy have caused. We need to understand in a way that doesn’t just come from our head but from the depth of our soul. Those scars are not just on the direct victims of these horrible acts but also on every single one of us and on our society as a whole because when we hurt one another out of a belief—explicit or implicit–that we are better or stronger or more worthy, that pain stays with us and with our community. It runs deep and the scars will never go away.
The hope comes when we look at those symbols and we remember. It comes when we commit ourselves to opening our world to learning and hearing stories—stories that can help us understand and transform the beliefs that are so ingrained in us that we don’t even realize they are there. Those stories can transform our lives if we let them.
Our Conference is inviting members of churches to sign up for small groups during Lent. These small groups will meet in various locations in our Conference every week to offer us the sacred experience of sharing our stories and understanding better the effects and pain of racism and the hope for transformation. See the article below for information about this program and to sign up.