Atlanta, Georgia. In nine short hours, I came to understand the meaning of ’Southern hospitality’ . The key to a united world is with our children, and in two separate and very moving experiences, I have faith that the future of America is in safe hands . It was in the Martin Luther King District I found the first inspiring bunch as I loitered around the entrance of the Ebenezer Baptist Church.
I met Jesse from UP of Atlanta, a beautiful soul influencing and guiding young minds away from fear and prejudice and into the light of humanity. After eavesdropping about what a wonderful thing they were doing for the community, I was intrigued. So naturally, I huddled up to the teachers and asked what they were doing. The Galloway school arranges community events for their older students to go out and give back to five separate initiatives for a week every year. Today, they were sharing food with people in need within the city area. So I went along. These kids were so eager to learn about my travels, who I had met, and where I’d been. They were so open-minded.
As we wandered the streets in the city, they approached people willingly, saying in cheerful tones, “Hello, we’re in the community today sharing food. Would you like a sandwich?” These people were sleeping rough on the streets of Atlanta and were totally loving the support. The kindness, the love, never mind the food, it’s about human interaction and these kids were so open to everybody that they came across. We met up with a man called Ben who had battled addiction for many years and had survived to tell the tale; emerging as a shining light to the people in the community. Ben has his own business now. He provides clothes to the homeless; to the less fortunate people like he was. What an inspirational guy, he stood before the kids and said, “What you’re doing today, you’ll never know how much you’re impacting people and somebody you reach out to today may have been contemplating their last day on earth.”
A sobering thought but probably accurate. I can’t imagine the streets of Atlanta being the most forgiving of places after dark. The love that poured from these kids, and in fact these teachers, was incredible. It was Ash Wednesday and we found a church without walls that holds services in parks and different places encouraging peer support. The team of people volunteering and helping other people, regardless of whether they’re still dealing with their own struggles or not, is amazing. This empowers the community and recognises that everybody needs help sometimes, not to mention how rewarding and motivating it is to be the one giving back.
Inspired, but in a hurry. I left my new classmates and headed to the Centre for Civil and Human Rights. Wow! I was blown away by that as well. Teaming with school groups, from seven years of age and up. It’s a new building, only built a few years ago and a must see if you’re in town. One exhibit that really got me was the simulated ‘Sit In’. In the ’60s when segregation was still polluting the south and white only diners were plentiful, courageous men and women staged sit-ins to protest. These crusaders, these pioneers at lunch counters across the state were subjected to horrendous abuse and still not served. The exhibit – ‘Sitting on a bench’. You close your eyes. Put your palms face down, headphones on and racial abuse is screamed at you for two and a half minutes. Violent, disgraceful, and bone chilling slurs. Even the chair, it stomps and shakes as people verbally assault you and threaten your life, whispering through utter hatred in your ears. It was so real! As I got up, in unison with the three teenage girls who sat with me, I was overwhelmed and so were they.
I burst into tears. I was so touched and disgusted that that is what has happened in the past and still today racial equality is not a given in all societies. One of the teenagers passed me a tissue and the centre employee nearby said in a very Southern accent, “Don’t y’all worry, everybody cries.” I thought, what a brilliant idea that is, to really make you think. I’m a white Christian female; discrimination doesn’t enter my world really because of my location, my heritage and my birthplace. I’ve never had to be subjected to that sort of demoralising behaviour. I certainly was inspired to explore the South a lot more. My flying visit which was supposed to be nine hours of boredom at the airport turned out to be a fascinating and incredible day. The Bible belt, I’ll be back.
Yours in Faith,
The Unlikely Pilgrim