In this week’s parshat, Pinchas (Numbers 25:10–30:1), the second census of all able-bodied males is taken. After everyone is counted, land is divided proportionally based on the size of each family group. Even the families who didn’t have sons that were of the age to be counted in the census received land based on directions given by G-D to Moses. Even though not everyone was counted in the census, everyone was deemed important, but this isn’t always the truth in our history. At every stop we visited this week, we explored how some groups have not always counted as much as others.
We did this by spending time learning about Emmett Till’s story and what life is like in modern-day Sumner, Mississippi. We spent time with young men who attended what is still an all-black high school in a town whose nearest grocery store is over 20 miles away.
We learned about the story of the Little Rock Nine and stood on the steps of Central High School to share causes we each believe in
We walked through the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, which is filled with facts, paraphernalia and photos from the Civil Rights Movement. We learned the details of Martin Luther King’s assassination and saw the hotel room where he lay down after being shot. We read about the details of the investigation and learned about different conspiracy theories related to his death. Then we explored the stories of the people who continue to fight for equality today.
We sat in the William Winter Institute for Race Reconciliation and learned about how the organization works with different communities to combat racial prejudice and works to build an equitable society.
We visited the Equal Justice Initiative, where we learned about how they fight for fairness in the justice system. One of the most powerful moments of the week was watching a news clip about how Anthony Ray Hinton sat on death row for 30 years for a crime he didn’t commit until he was finally exonerated just last year. When the video was over, Mr. Hinton himself was sitting on the stage to tell his powerful story.
We met with the Joe Levin, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center. In the 1960s, Mr. Levin saw how his own Jewish community was working so hard to assimilate, they didn’t want to stand up for others who were being oppressed. He and a friend started the SPLC to fight for those on the fringes and help teach tolerance to everyone.
Yesterday, we had the honor of meeting with Joanne Bland, a woman who was part of the 1965 Selma marches and continues to live in Selma to teach a new generation about fighting for equal rights. She reminded us how important we each are in this fight. “You are the most important piece of the jigsaw puzzle,” she told us. “Figure out what your part of the puzzle needs to look like.” Ms. Bland reminded us that no puzzle is complete without everyone’s contribution.
We are committed to coming together to stand up for what is right and make changes in the world around us. Last night, Hillary Clinton said that “when any barrier falls for America, it clears the way for everyone. When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit.” It is up to us fight for those that haven’t been counted in the past. Everyone is an important part of the jigsaw puzzle and deserves to be counted.
Beth, Alex, Thalia, and Joe
Mitzvah Corps Civil Rights Journey 2016 Program Staff