Getting Under My Skin
I am a strong “I” on the Myers Briggs, and I usually steer clear of group activities of any sort — let alone group activities where you are trapped on a bus with thirty or so other people traveling to various sites throughout the South from sunrise to well beyond sunset, and then you share a room with a partner! Not only that, but I frankly have never gotten much out of traveling to places to “experience what it’s like being there.” When I took a trip to Israel, for example, those I traveled with were routinely moved, sometimes to the point of tears. Not me. Being present at the Sea of Galilee didn’t add anything to the many photographs I’d seen throughout the years.
I know that’s weird, but it is what it is.
I embarked on the Sankofa Journey with a bit of introvert-trepidation and with rather low expectationsI share that to explain why I embarked on the Sankofa Journey with a bit of introvert-trepidation and with rather low expectations.
Was I in for a surprise! I can’t say my “I” buzzer was never triggered, but this journey was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. Standing before the balcony of the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, I began to weep, as I did several times in the Civil Rights Museum that is attached to it, as I had several times earlier at the Legacy Museum, and as I found myself doing throughout the rest of the trip.
I have since wondered why the Sankofa Journey hit me so hard…
I have since wondered why the Sankofa Journey hit me so hard, when I could never “get into” such things before. There definitely was a spiritual dimension to the pain I was experiencing, so maybe I should just say the Spirit used this trip to deepen my passion for racial injustice and leave it at that. As true as this is, however, there is more.
As I reflect on it, I think the main reason this trip was so different for me was that I was sharing the experience with African-American sisters and brothers. Hearing their stories alongside all the stories that were told and illustrated in the various Museums and Parks that we visited somehow made the horror of slavery, as well as the horror of oppression that has followed slavery, more experiential for me. I knew a good bit of the information we received on this trip from my own studies, but I had never before let it get so deeply “under my skin.” There is a world of difference between the two.
I was sharing the experience with African-American sisters and brothers (and) hearing their stories…One of the most profound experiences I had took place in Birmingham, Alabama, at a dock where those slaves who survived their horrific trip across the Atlantic were unloaded. They then were herded up Commerce Street to await their auction. There, many had to say “goodbye” to spouses, children, and other loved ones whom they would never see again, since they were sold to a different family.
As I and my African American partner silently walked up this street, I tried to imagine myself as one of these slaves. What would it have been like to have survived this nightmare of a journey only to now realize you and your family are to be sold like cattle and treated worse?
It devastated me. I let it “under my skin.” I let it hurt me. I let it change me.I imagined what it would have been like to see my own precocious ten-year-old granddaughter sold to a wealthy landowner, knowing I’d likely never to see her again, knowing I’d be tormented the rest of my life wondering what this landowner was using my granddaughter for.
It devastated me. I let it “under my skin.” I let it hurt me. I let it change me.
I am so profoundly grateful for all those I shared this journey with, but especially for the African-American brothers and sisters I shared this journey with. Thank you for your love, your honesty, and your vulnerability. I am quite certain my experience of this trip would not have been nearly so profound were it not for you.
Dr. Greg Boyd is the Senior Pastor at Woodland Hills Church