My First Trip to Memphis
With only 90 free minutes during my six-day stay in Memphis, I filled that time with a visit to the National Civil Rights Museum. I could’ve gone shopping, visited Graceland or hit Beale Street, but I knew I wouldn’t rest easy if I didn’t make the trip. Some might say it’s ironic that I toured while at a Junior League conference, especially since I’ve been discussing how my Junior League career has been rich and full of training opportunities yet largely lacking in diversity. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog article about that issue, and it got a lot of traction in the Junior League world. In fact, it’s my most read article to date.
The response to my article has varied depending on the reader. On the one hand, I’ve received a lot of support, encouragement, and cheers from fellow Junior League members who are women of color. We’ve had a robust debate on Facebook, and it’s inspired many to talk about their own experiences. One member told me it helped her begin the healing process after feeling burned in her organization.
Others are upset that I wrote the article. It’s hard for me to fully understand why. After all, my personal journey isn’t reflective of any particular board or organization’s beliefs. They are my own words as an individual and my words alone. I have also heard that there have been closed-door meetings to discuss what I wrote. I don’t know what was said, but I hope it spurred a much-needed conversation about how to lead the organization toward a more diverse future.
So it was serendipitous that I visited the Civil Rights Museum while in Memphis for Junior League.
Civil Rights Leaders Inspired Me
I was overcome by emotion while on the museum’s campus. The balcony where Dr. King was assassinated is marked with a wreath. As I walked up to it, I was transported to an image forever ingrained in my head. You know it, too: the black and white picture of two men standing on that balcony pointing at the location of the assassin. Now that balcony was right in front me. I had goosebumps.
Inside the museum, I read about the Freedom Riders, made a note to learn everything I can about Fannie Lou Hamer, teared up when I saw a bronzed statue of Rosa Parks on a bus and cried as I walked through Room 306 & 307 of the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King and the other leaders stayed while in Memphis.
For many, the museum is a chronological marker of the Civil Rights Era, for me, it is a question of who I want to be and what role I want to play in something that I believe is bigger than each of us. I asked myself, “What role would I have played in that movement had I been alive then?” Would I have been a Freedom Rider? Or would I have been a supporter who sheltered Freedom Riders or hosted them for a meal? Maybe I would have totally played it safe by sitting at home on my sofa with a rosary to pray for their safety. I know no matter the role, every part mattered, but I also know I would’ve wanted to be on that bus.
My Journey Continues
My visit to the Civil Rights Museum was a reminder to not stop writing about things that matter, like the need for greater diversity, equity, and inclusion in a predominately white organization. I decided that even though it might make some people uncomfortable, people died –by gunshot, burned by fires or beaten with sticks–for my right to speak up and speak out for the things that matter to ME.
39. Dr. King died at that age. On the cusp of my 40th birthday, which is exactly one month from today, I’m thinking a lot about his legacy. I’m more acutely aware now than I’ve ever been before of the opportunities that lie ahead to create a better, more inclusive future and of the responsibility that comes with those opportunities. I’m grateful that he taught me one of life’s greatest lessons. #Firestarters, let’s keep pushing for the change we want to see. I hope this moment ignites a movement within me!
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” -Martin Luther King, Junior
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