“We can allow the past to heal us or continue to walk in shackles.”—Afriye We-kandodis
Though the 7th grade Road to Justice trip is canceled this year, the lessons from that experience remain at the forefront of the curriculum. Last Friday, Social Studies teacher Sarah Smith and Michelle Belton, director of diversity, equity, and inclusion, hosted guest Afriye We-kandodis, Director of the Museum of Slavery and Civil Rights in Selma, Alabama, one of the stops along the trip, for a Q&A session with students. Afriye developed a program at the museum that connects visitors personally with the Middle Passage events—the stage in which Africans were transported to the New World and enslaved. Afriye believes that presenting history so that people can imagine what Africans went through promotes healing for all people from the inside out. She finds that as visitors move through the program, they become more open to embracing the guilt, fear, and shame, taking responsibility, and seeking to make changes in their lives today.
Students didn’t shy away from asking Afriye questions, even the hard ones. What do you love about Selma? What advice do you give white people who want to take a stand with Black people? And, how do you feel about white guilt? Afriye answered their inquiries honestly and graciously. She said that she loves Selma as it is a “powerful place,” adding, “the people [who grew up here] don’t know what they have. I often look at Selma as the child who told a family secret.” Many secrets she has found others have blocked out of their memory or people only reveal in a hushed tone because it doesn’t feel safe to say out loud. Selma revealed to the world the injustices Black people were facing in the United States. She said that white people often want to be saviors and advised students to reflect on why they want to speak out and ask Black people how they can best serve as an ally. When it comes to white guilt, Afriye says guilt turns into personal -isms/prejudices, fear, and apathy. Once responsibility is faced with honesty and compassion, true healing can begin. “Until you see the value of all human beings,” she said, “we will never be free.”
When asked if she is optimistic about the future, Afriye became overcome with joy, unable to hold back her smile. “Yes, we are winning! The fact that you are here, on this call… …the fact I am able to connect with these young people. Change is happening,” she said.
Afriye spoke candidly of her experience in the South, from watching the KKK march in the streets to present-day challenges of COVID and watching People of Color die at higher rates than white people. More questions came through the chat than time allowed. After students left the call, Michelle recapped the presentation's importance and thanked Afriye for guiding students to reflect on their activism. “Students are at a space in their lives where they want to protest… …but it’s not always their personal walk,” Michelle said. Provoking students to have a long-term perspective will yield action they can sustain, which will have a more significant impact into the future.