On a 100-degree fall day in Montgomery, Alabama, 14 Aim High staff members reckoned with America’s history of slavery, racial terror lynchings, segregation and mass incarceration at the Equal Justice Initiative’s (EJI) Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

EJI was founded in 1989 by attorney Bryan Stevenson to provide legal representation for people lost to illegal convictions, unfair sentences and/or abuse in state jails and prisons. The group challenges death penalty cases, shines light on the injustices of mass incarceration and provides re-entry assistance to formerly incarcerated people. In 2018, the organization opened its museum and memorial in Montgomery, a city that was once the capital of the domestic slave trade in Alabama.

Stevenson writes that, “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.”

This light of truth  was the beacon that guided our team through a day-long visit to the museum and memorial. The museum, built on the site of an old slave warehouse, is curated with first-hand narratives and interactive experiences that require guests to confront slavery and its modern-day equivalence: mass incarceration, police brutality and the death penalty.

A short ride from the museum, six-foot pillars are engraved with the names of thousands of men, women and children who were victims of racial terror lynchings across the south from 1877-1949. Their names and their stories, memorialized at last.

Aim High’s pilgrimage to Montgomery was granted by an anonymous funder who requested that the opportunity be used for team learning, reflection and discussion.  And so, the trip concluded in candid, difficult and profound dialogue with each other. We shared stories about personal connections to the material and contemplated our intentions at Aim High and as citizens of the world. The power to shape a hopeful future begins when we are willing to see, with clear sight, the atrocities of our nation’s history and the insidious implications that centuries of slavery and oppression have created for African Americans today.

As the team headed back to San Francisco after three days in Montgomery, a five-minute thunderstorm broke the heat spell that had plagued the city for days. The shift in weather, a gentle reminder of all that is possible, and a welcome change indeed.

2 comments on “Lessons from Montgomery”

  1. 1
    Steve Davenport on November 4, 2019

    I can‘t think of any group of people more ready than the Aim High staff to absorb the the learnings of this experience and to continue going forth to make a more equitable nation.

  2. 2
    Susan Shelton on November 6, 2019

    This is a powerful summary of the journey into the darkest parts of our past and the need to look at it with clarity. The anonymous donor gave a very important gift to an extremely worthwhile organization.

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