As Spring approached, we dreamed of exploring and learning about JUSTICE on an urban trek to Atlanta - a city with ample civil rights history, a large population of refugees, and the place of some incredible work we knew we could glean from. The six key elements of Urban Trekkers include outdoor adventure, environmental awareness, historical perspectives, cross-cultural experiences, community service, leadership training, and team-building, and we hoped this trek to ATL would give us some experiences in more than one of these elements together.
Our day started off bright and early (5:30 am!!) in Nashville as we gathered together around a verse written in the gospel of John and a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to set the stage for the day and give us all something to reflect on as we journeyed together for a few hours.
“In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness did not overcome it.” -John 1:4-5
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that." - Dr. MLK Jr.
We took some time to let these words sink in, and then set out for our day’s journey. Our drive down was filled with laughter, joy, lots of storytelling, and a music playlist laced with the themes of light and darkness. As we entered Atlanta city limits, we listen to a sermon from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. titled, “But if not..” posing the questions: "What do we do as believers when we are faced with injustice? Who do we trust? What do we hope in?" These were powerful questions to ponder as we traveled through the center of the city where this preacher’s journey with our nation’s civil rights movement began.
Our first stop of the day was to a place where we see so much light and hope and “justice rolling out like a mighty stream” - REFUGE Coffee in Clarkston, Georgia. (**disclaimer: if you have not been, you must go).
Clarkston is just outside of Atlanta and is known as the most diverse square mile in the US because of so many refugees that re-settle there. This coffee house we visited began with the hope to empower refugees in their new community by providing a living wage, job training, mentorship, resources for the community, and a place for the community to gather. It is incredible. As we sat at tables eating East African sambusas, drinking coffee & chai, and surrounded by murals that represented so many different cultures and peoples, one of our StreetLeaders leaned over and shared. “This reminds me of my home country. I love this place.” :) This was a place where we were seeing light that was breaking through darkness.
Surrounded by people that found themselves here from around the world, we reflected on the word JUSTICE, or in Hebrew: mishpat. And we discussed how biblical injustice/justice is married to relationship - relationship broken and relationship restored/in full. “What is Jesus’s relationship with justice?” We asked. “Where might we see or learn about injustice or darkness today? What about justice and light? Who or what do we hope in?” We prayed. We soaked in the hope around us. And we set out to our next stop on our day’s journey.
Our second stop was in downtown Atlanta. As the birthplace of MLK and one of the centers of historic conversations that took place leading up to and during the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park on Auburn Ave. was at the top of the list of the historical sites we wanted to step foot on and learn from the history that happened there. MLK Jr.’s birth home, church (Ebenezer Baptist Church), and memorial are all along Auburn Ave. We learned together of the many conversations that ensued on this street that influenced the civil rights movement at the time - but we were all struck by how normal MLK’s life and the lives of so many others were who joined the movement of that day. As we walked silently through the memorial site for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. we were met by a fountain that read “we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Its water flowed to a list of principals that he and others around him strived to live by. On one side of the memorial read these six principles of non-violence:
1. Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people. It is active nonviolent resistance to evil.
2. Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding. The end result of nonviolence is redemption and reconciliation.
3. Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people. Nonviolence recognizes that evildoers are also victims.
4. Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform. Nonviolence willingly accepts the consequences to its acts.
5. Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate. Nonviolence resists violence to the spirit as well as the body. Nonviolence love is active, not passive. Nonviolence love does not sink to the level of the hater. Love restores community and resists injustice. Nonviolence recognizes the fact that all life is interrelated.
6. Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice. The nonviolent resister has deep faith that justice will eventually win.
These six principles stopped us all in our tracks, as we took in the power of the statements before us - Justice, Light.
The last stop of our trek through Atlanta was the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. A museum that aims to educate about civil rights, injustices, and justices. Walking through this museum together was powerful - it sparked conversations from things we saw and experienced including displays of news article images blown up on walls from the events leading up to the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, a simulation of a diner “sit-in”, and an entire level of the museum dedicated to modern-day justice and injustice (highlighting those who have stood on either side). Questions arose from us as we walked together:
“What do you think you would have done?” “What do you think of that person who fought for this justice?” “What do you think of when you see that person who is known for oppressing that people group?” “How am I standing with those who are experiencing injustice today?”
The day ended with debriefing together on a lawn as the sun set, reflecting on all we had seen and learned about. Everyone had such powerful personal reflections. We left Atlanta thankful for what we learned and more confident in the hope that is ours in Jesus and his call for us as His people - lights in the darkness. May we remember the Ebenezer (a stone of remembrance of God’s help) our journey to Atlanta became for us all as we KEEP ON TREKKIN’ :)
Here are a few reflections from our ATL trekkers!
“Going to Atlanta with the trekkers was full of inspiration and sobering stories. The theme of lightness and darkness and the fight for justice shined through. We were filled with new hope for what increased justice in our community can look like!”
“I loved the experience of the Center for Civil and Human Rights and its interactive experiences. Being able to process and retain things from the day in the car rides and on the lawn of the Olympic Park was very helpful. I want to hold on to how we learned to wield justice or “mishpat.” As God is just and loving, we are called to do justice and share love. “ - Eli
“Our urban trek to ATL felt jam-packed with laughter and wisdom. What a great combo :) Here were a few of my favorite parts:
1. There’s something special about connecting personally with a narrative. Inno is often a quiet guy, but when we sat down to reflect on our time in the National Museum for Human & Civil Rights, Innocent was the first to share. He couldn’t wait to talk about seeing his home country, Rwanda, in the museum exhibit. I loved witnessing how deeply his home country matters to him.
2. Community means seeing, knowing, and loving others as well as being seen, known, and loved. On the four-hour car ride from Nash to ATL, we passed the time by swapping our life stories—how we grew up, how we’ve changed, who and what has mattered to us. It felt like such a simple and beautiful experience of community in action. And I’m so excited that I get to continue walking in community with those very same women whose stories I now understand on a much deeper level. Thank you, God for long car rides!
3. During our trip, we visited the MLK Jr. National Historical Park. On display were the Six Principles that make up Dr. King’s philosophy of non-violence described in his very first book. Principle Three stated, “Nonviolence Seeks to Defeat Injustice, or Evil, Not People.” I loved discussing with our group how this principle connects with our Christian reality laid out in Ephesians 6:12: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Throughout our shared experience and reflection in ATL, I felt encouraged and strengthened by the time with my UPN Family!” - Mary