Dear People of the Diocese of New Jersey:
I recently spent 9 days at Haw River State Park in Summit, NC working with team members of the Lift Every Voice: Freedom Ride Project, sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina. It was a powerfully moving and inspiring week-long experience that was shared with 67 youth, young adults, and diocesan leaders from Northern California, South Africa, Botswana, Massachusetts, Virginia, Texas, and the Carolinas, including our Presiding Bishop-elect, Bishop Michael Curry. We were brought together to get better informed and cultivate the proper awareness and relationships, with Christ at the center of all that we think, do, and plan to dismantle racism and other forms of discrimination that we all face today.
Together we all toured the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro, NC, and visited and learned the history of Stagville Plantation, a 30,000 acre slave plantation in Durham, NC. We took in a performance of Mike Wiley's production of Tim Tyson's "Blood Done Sign My Name" and participated in panel discussions with the Raleigh Police Chief and Episcopalian Cassandra Brown, and several Civil Rights activists, including Milicent Brown, Lewis Brandon, and Joseph McNeill, a member of the historic Greensboro Four. The president and other office holding members of the Youth and College Chapters of the NAACP and Malinda Lowery, author of Lumbee Indians in the Jim Crow South, also offered presentations which informed the group of cultural history and current developments, specifically those of the Moral Monday March for Voting Rights to Young Voters in Winston-Salem, NC on July 13.
It was a full week of learning, exploring, healing, praying, singing, and a call to action, which Presiding Bishop-elect Michael Curry refers to as a "Jesus Movement."
For some pictures, and further details on the three-year Freedom Ride Project and experience, please visit the following sites: Bishop Doug Fisher's Blog, The Diocese of North Carolina website, Lift Every Voice Freedom Ride Blog and the LEV/Freedom Ride Facebook Group.
Here are five lessons I learned on this trip:
1. I learned that the opportunity to creatively serve and carry out social justice has no age, ethnic, religious, or gender requirement. Our group's participants ranged from age 15 to late 60s, and came from various parts of North and South America and Africa, each of them with deep concern and a heart for ensuring that the dignity and integrity of every human should be upheld.
2. I learned that the Holy Spirit is still at work in developing and growing advocates and leaders who have an interest and passion for challenging racism, despite how long ago Apartheid ended in South Africa or slavery was deemed illegal in this country. A deep faith in God was one of the common attributes that our Civil Rights activists shared.
3. I learned how songs, chants, and music play an essential role in motivating and conveying messages of civil responsibility across multiple generations, to people all over the world. Through performance and discussion, we encountered the difficult and illuminating history of music as a tool for social justice, from Negro Spirituals to Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" to Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" and beyond. Popular North Carolina indie/jazz/hip-hop band The Beast joined us for a night of music and conversation; lead singer Pierce Freelon is the son of six-time Grammy nominated Jazz vocalist Nnenna Freelon, with whom the band frequently collaborates.
4. I learned that the heroes and leaders of the past and present do not necessarily set out to be heroes and leaders, but by their courage, commitment, and perseverance, they model their inspiring character, which motivates a forward movement by those who bear witness to their bold nobility.
I learned that shifting gender norms, hardships of undocumented immigrant youths, being victims of racial profiling, and cultivating a substantial relationship with Jesus Christ are some of the issues that our young people face today,
and they need the support, and encouragement to keep fanning their fire that calls them to action.
As adults, leaders, and authority figures in the Episcopal Church, we can readily serve as that source of support and encouragement.
I'm grateful to have had this transformative experience in working with these young people, and I'm thrilled that they are part of our church. I look forward to seeing them grow in their faith and relationship with Jesus Christ, and I welcome further adventures and programs such as this that develop young peoples' talents in creative, faithful and essential ways.
It was an honor and privilege to be called to serve as Spiritual Director with such creative, curious, and committed young people of the Anglican and Episcopal Church. I am grateful to Bishop Stokes for allowing me to share part of my experience with the people of the Diocese of New Jersey. I'd be happy to go into further details of my time there and how I came about being invited to being part of the project in the first place, with anyone who may be interested.
Faithfully Yours in Christ,
Canon Cecilia Alvarez
Canon for Transition Ministry and Clergy Development
(609) 394-5281, Ext. 22