A Reflection: 2024 Civil Rights Movement Pilgrimage with Faith & Politics Institute

Emily Benson by Emily Benson | May 1, 2024

Curley’s continued pro-bono partnership with the Faith and Politics Institute has been one of the enlightening and fulfilling experiences I’ve had in my career thus far. 

Earlier this month, Claire, KayAnn, and I had the honor of staffing and attending the Faith and Politics Institute’s Annual Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage in Birmingham, Montgomery, and Selma, Alabama. The transformative trip included seventeen Members of Congress, loads of corporate executives, civil rights luminaries, John Robert Lewis Scholars, Fellows and Leaders, and local government officials, all convening together to retrace the footsteps of the civil rights movement.

The delegation embarked on a journey of self-reflection, both on the stories and experiences of racial inequality that are ingrained in our country’s history and on a re-commitment to carrying the torch of civil rights leaders who advocated for progress and justice. The journey visited key civil rights landmarks throughout Alabama, including the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the 16th Street Baptist Church, the Frank M. Johnson Courthouse, and more, where some of the most horrific and momentous moments in our nation’s history took place. Standing in the room where it happened, revisiting these landmarks forced us to come face to face with our country’s often ugly past, while also understanding the resilience, endurance, and bravery civil rights leaders demonstrated in the face of violence and oppression. 

Something especially transformative and remarkable about this trip is that it blended the past and the present together. Civil rights leaders were able to look out on the delegation, a melting pot of government officials, business and corporate leaders, activists and advocates, students and fellows – all united in their mission to forge change and progress in their respective communities and beyond – and pass the baton on to the new generations. It was unbelievably inspiring to hear stories and lessons from some of the greatest activists of American history, including Willie King, Sheyann Webb Christburg, the Shuttelsworth family, and Bettie Mae Fikes, while also hearing reflections and commitments from the leading voices of today, including the Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative Bryan Stevenson. While facing different battles and challenges and coming from different time-periods, backgrounds, and even sides of the aisle, the delegation convened and united behind its commitment to a more fair and equitable future.  

At the Saturday night reception, the delegation was asked to pick a word that described their experience on the pilgrimage. The word I chose was legacy. This word describes both the shameful legacy of slavery, segregation, racial violence, etc. that defines much of American history – a reality we were a nation must commit to learning about and recognizing. But it also describes the legacy we carry forward, that of the principles and values of civil rights leaders like John R. Lewis who, in the face of evil and oppression, continued to believe in a better future and march towards it. It is up to us now, the new generations who continue to face and endure inequity and injustice in new iterations, to carry forth the legacy of the leaders and changemakers who came before. 

Being able to work on the behalf of an organization with such a powerful and impactful mission has been incredibly rewarding, and I look forward to continuing Curley’s pro bono work to help FPI uplift its mission and carry forth the legacy of civil rights leaders.

Reflection written by Emily Benson, Senior Account Manager

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