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I would’ve never thought one of the best weeks of my life would be the week I spent in Montgomery, Alabama.
I’m thirteen years old and in 8th grade. Last week I took three days off from school and with my family I attended the opening of the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. A truly humble civil rights activist by the name of Bryan Stevenson started an organization called EJI (Equal Justice Initiative), to help with the mass incarceration of African American men and women who are wrongly imprisoned.
The world has been waiting for someone like Bryan to step up and stand up for what’s right. As Baha’is we believe there is one race—the human race: “Ye are the fruits of one tree, and leaves of one branch.” – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 164.
That tree is humanity, and it holds the fruits and leaves, which are the people. The branches are the nations, and all the people are of humanity, as one.
During our week in Alabama I attended programs, concerts, visited the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, met amazing people, and so much more. During this trip I met a man named Mr. Morris. One day Mr. Morris’ brother had gone to the store and bought something. After he paid he asked for the receipt. This offended the cashier. His intention was not to offend her, but only to receive confirmation that he had paid her. He left and thought nothing of it, but the cashier definitely did. Mr. Morris’ brother was later chained to the bottom of the river by a white mob. Not only did they lynch the innocent man, but they claimed that he had drowned on his own.
Mr. Morris and his family retrieved the body and took it to the church to be buried. They buried the body, but the church refused to put his name on the tombstone, to avoid getting mobbed. Mr. Morris’ name never got acknowledged by the church and people. Mr. Stevenson, along with many other lynching victim’s families, got the soil from the site where Mr. Morris’ brother and other victims were lynched, put their names, lynch dates and locations on it, and put them on display in the museum.
It wasn’t too long ago that this lynching took place. Think about it: a man whose brother was lynched is still alive today. No race should be superior to the other. God created us equal, black or white—we are world citizens:
O Children of Men! Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 20.
In addition to Mr. Morris, I got the chance to speak with one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever met, Anthony Ray Hinton. Anthony Ray Hinton was wrongly incarcerated for 30 years. Bryan Stevenson stated it well when he said that “Our criminal justice system treats you better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent.”
Because he was black, Mr. Hinton did not receive the justice he deserved. He was wrongly convicted for two murders he did not commit and spent 28 years on death row. Anthony Ray Hinton thought that it was selfish to ask God to free him. Mr. Hinton wrote a book called The Sun Does Rise. I would recommend taking the time to read his riveting story. I love you Mr. Hinton, and I’m sorry for everything you went through. Blacks and whites have no fundamental differences, as Abdu’l-Baha said:
Through our ignorance and lack of viewpoint we divide this common home, we divide the members of this family into various races, we divide religion into different sects and then with those suppositional divisions we wage war against one another; we shed one another’s blood and we pillage one another’s possessions. Is not this unpardonable ignorance? Is this not the height of injustice? Were we just and could we observe without prejudice we would realize that there are no fundamental differences. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, pp. 178-179.
I also got the chance to meet the mother of Eric Garner at a concert hosted by EJI. Eric Garner was choked to death by the police in Staten Island, New York City. All these stories concerning police brutality are truly heartbreaking, and to meet a mother who lost her child due to this violence left me with a wakeup call that there are families who are losing their loved ones due to racism. It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, everyone is the same, and to think that someone’s skin color could get in the way of how they’re treated, is so unjust:
He Who is your Lord, the All-Merciful, cherisheth in His heart the desire of beholding the entire human race as one soul and one body. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 214.
I would like to thank Senator Cory Booker for being such an open advocate for civil rights. He is such a kind and well-spoken man and I was fortunate to meet him while in Montgomery. During our experience in Alabama I also learned that Common is so much more than a rapper—he is a civil rights advocate through his music, and uses his platform to speak up for what’s right and what he believes in, that African Americans still don’t have the justice they deserve. As Bryan Stevenson says, “Slavery has not ended, it has evolved.”
There are still people like Anthony Ray Hinton who are wrongly imprisoned and killed because of their skin color. America can’t stay quiet about all it has put the African American community through. We can’t just forget about all the scars slavery left on this country. In order to grow as a nation we have to talk about it. It’s time for people to speak up. It’s time for people to rise up to their most noble positions and speak up for justice. I believe that young voices are the loudest, and that we are the ones who can make the biggest impact. Thank you to all the people who helped make EJI happen! I really believe that EJI was a big turn for justice!
Oh, friends of God, be living examples of justice! So that by the Mercy of God, the world may see in your actions that you manifest the attributes of justice and mercy.
Justice is not limited, it is a universal quality. Its operation must be carried out in all classes, from the highest to the lowest. Justice must be sacred, and the rights of all the people must be considered. Desire for others only that which you desire for yourselves. Then shall we rejoice in the Sun of Justice, which shines from the Horizon of God. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 159.
We are building the world for future generations, and it’s our responsibility to bring justice. As civil rights activist Brittney Packnett says, “I’m somebody else’s ancestor, so what am I building for them?”