Rediscovering Lost Values

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The May 21 issue of The New York Times noted the impact of Bryan Stevenson’s Legacy Museum and Lynching Memorial on the economy of Montgomery, Alabama. Since its opening in April 2018, these sites have attracted more than 400,000 visitors; 100,000 hotel rooms were sold in 2018 than the year before it opened.

 

The annual tour of Brooklyn Anti-Violence Coalition, Inc. (BAVI) were among those Visitors, last year.  Our Time Press accompanied the group, led by Taharka and Bianca Robinson and Bruce Paul Green, for the second year and noticed changes since our first visit. The Alabama capital’s entire downtown area near or around Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative offices on Coosa Street — where Africans were marketed and sold into slavery — is under reconstruction.

 

Around the corner from the 10,000 square-foot museum housed in Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative law offices – where imprisoned and condemn ed inmates are represented – a parking space for 150 vehicles, a visitor’s center and a soul food restaurant are being built.

Nearby a hotel is being renovated, and a dilapidated commercial building is being restored to house office space and residential space. In addition, to BAVI non-profit, we noticed trucks from Brooklyn’s MarJam construction products supplier. The company is ahead of the game; It has owned a lumberyard in Montgomery since 2009. One of its offices, located on Dexter Avenue, is within walking distance of the Historic King Memorial Baptist Church.

 

More than history is being made in Montgomery. Beyond the brick-and-mortar transformation of this Southern city into a metropolis of sorts, there is another evolution going on; one not televised. It’s internal. It’s emotional. It is louder than jackhammers, quieter than time passing by. As one BAVI traveler told us, “The spirits were flowing, and they were overwhelming.”

 

BAVI young people and the adult travelers were moved. It started with the official welcome of Ms. Wanda Battle, Director of Tourism at the church where King served for six years as its 20th pastor.

 

Another section from the diary of fellow traveler Glen follows:

 

 

A Perspective Reconstructed

Glen Beck’s Journey Continues – Pt. II

 

Originally, I had planned to stay outside, then decided differently. I am not a
churchgoer, but I wanted to experience as much of the trip as I could for myself. I
went along.

Aside from our group, there was another in attendance, predominantly white
children approximately 7 to 10 years of age, accompanied by few adults. They were
on a church outing.

Bruce Green, president of Bed-Stuy-based Brooklyn Anti-Violence Coalition, had
been taking video of Ms. Battle’s rousing narrative. Green made it known that
Taharka Robinson was indeed a reverend whose “Rediscovering Values” tour was
teaching the gritty history of treatment of Blacks in America and life lessons from it. Ms. Battle instructed us to stand, lock hands, and spread out into a full circle around the pew. She then gave the floor to Rev. Robinson to lead us all in prayer.

Although church and faith are not my thing, I certainly know a man’s strength when
I see it, or hear it, and unquestioningly, Reverend Robinson, in one of the most
historic sanctuaries in the world delivered a thunderous, rousing, powerful prayer
message.

Everyone’s head bowed deeply, with eyes closed and grasping the hand of the
brother or sister besides them and received his words. Taharka changed before my
eyes from a guy I knew as Hark for years to the religious force, as if anointed by the
Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. It was that very moment, which led me to want to
write this piece about the trip.

I’m glad I went inside.

We exited the monumental church with a plan in place: to head for a quick bite to
eat before heading to the hotel. After taking attendance, I turned the key of the van,
put it in drive for a moment, then shifted back into park. I got out and walked into
the middle of the street with my cell phone in hand and took a photo of the
Montgomery capital building, several hundred yards from the church. The blue
open skies and sparse, inviting clouds added to the beauty of the architecture that
lay before me. This downtown area of Montgomery was clean, even a pleasure to
drive through, considering it was the middle of the week. There was no foot traffic at
all, and practically not a single car on the road, driven or parked.

Following the GPS towards the lunch spot, we drove a short distance, nearing
Alabama State University. I’d been there in mid-2001 as a bodyguard for a Hip Hop
performer, both then and now as I recall, the area nearest the university was
dilapidated in contrast to the picturesque downtown just minutes away. The one-
story brick buildings reminded me of New York City’s project housing in the late 80s
and early 90s, although they are much shorter. The heavily in-need-of-care, wooden

 

homes situated nearby were also a far cry from the glitz and glamour of bigger
cities.

For whatever reason, the GPS took us onto the campus grounds, with no restaurant
in sight.

But we found our way to a place we could dine, and another we could call home for
the night. The next day, May 17, would bring another “journey” of sorts. Ten
minutes from the hotel where we stayed was the “The Legacy Museum.” There was
no way of knowing my life was about to change.

A visitor easily can walk right by the museum, mindlessly swiping through their cell
phone thinking this imposing, historic place is a movie theater. However, the dark
recessed doorway hid a terrible treasure.

This is where my ‘Awakening’ came. The museum was a literal road map of events
concerning the plight of Africans taken from their homeland and placed into
lifetimes of generational slavery.

It was in this place that I was pulled into something that was more than just myself
or any experience I had had. I became thrust into an emotional roller coaster of
experiences of a history that still unfolds; knowledge about the deep-seeded, and
the ugly that to this day, weigh heavily on this country.

The general populace does not know what they don’t know about slavery in
America. Many still say, “Sure, I know about it. But that was a long time ago.” That
stain still seems to be a forgotten occurrence. One of the most upsetting timeframes
in American and World history gets thrown around like a punch line. But not at this
museum.

The Museum, in great detail, through viscerally graphic and upsetting videos,
photos, news clippings, narratives and retold stories captures poignantly and
unapologetically the deepest, indelible stain on American history.

Along my 65-minute walk through the exhibit, I encountered terror and the terrible:
the actual experiences of what happened to human beings who were tortured,
demeaned, and separated from their families for no reason other than the color of
their skin and … for profit. It took a heavy toll on me. The walk-through time that I
endured in silence was chilling and threatening.

Although I didn’t have long conversations with them, I’d come to know the
teens on the “Rediscovering Values” tour as being truly good-natured young people
normally pulling and pushing, always armed with jokes and laughter, or sometimes,
bored and ready to keep it moving. But NOT today. As we traveled together
through time in the quiet venue that held us all accountable for a period of
irredeemable tragedy, I tried to read their emotions, but they were all tight-lipped,

 

and solemn with faces of stone … and I felt compelled to watch over them, and to
protect them.

I learned more about the enslavement of Africans in America in just slightly
over one hour’s time than I have in the fifty-three years I’ve lived on this earth.

(US Marine Glen Beck is an Executive Protection Specialist. His journey continues in
Our Time Press later this month.)

 

                                                                                                                        Bernice Green