Ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around
We’re gonna keep on a walkin, keep on a talkin,
Marchin up to Freedom’s Land
As we marched in the hot humid sun, a group of truly courageous and gusty Georgian women began singing this Freedom Song in beautiful harmony. Their singing gave me strength and served as a connection to the past. They reminded me of why I was there: to walk, to talk, and to march for justice and freedom for all.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I signed up for this journey. Yes, I knew I would help carry the Torah during the day’s 18 mile journey, but it was the walking and the talking that truly inspired me and it was the extraordinary people that I met on my trip that will stay with me long after my feet stop aching.
Over breakfast, I sat with Royal who shared his anger that he could not join the numerous fishing and hunting clubs in town because of his skin color. He worried about his five year old son whose best friend is white. “What will happen when my son’s friend has a birthday party at the Fishing Club?” he asked me. “Will the boy include my son in the birthday party or not? Will the father turn his son into a racist or will the boy recognize the ignorance of his father’s way?”
In the morning, I walked alongside Shelly who was concerned about the next generation. She shared that those without an education often find work as a restaurant server – making the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour – barely enough to make a living. Shelly inspired me by accepting a new job tutoring high school seniors, enabling these students to move forward with their education and their dreams.
In the afternoon, I stood by Keisha’s side. It was a transformative moment in Keisha’s youth that led her to become an advocate for change. She told me that she believes it is a smile, a wave of the hand, a kind word that will truly change the course of our country. Her heart pushed her to create a new non-profit that will support future business owners and help get people back to work.
Later that day, I was honored to chant from the Torah and read these words: “If there is a needy person among you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kin” (Deuteronomy 15:7). Rabbi Jill Perlman shared a beautiful teaching that in order to break open a hardened heart we must first unclench our hands and reach out to each other. Over the course of my journey, I recognized the power of not only my hands, but also my feet. By holding on to the marchers next to me and by walking by their side, I was able to open my heart to their worries, their challenges and the injustice that pervades our society. By being present and sharing my entire body and soul, my heart was opened to their experience.
I only marched for one day in the steamy 100 degree Georgian heat, but Royal, Shelly and Keshia are marching the entire length of the journey. They’ve come so far already, but it’s still a long way to the Promised Land. May the beautiful singing inspire them and continue to push us all to open our hearts and our hands, for we must keep on walking, keep on talking, and marching up to Freedom’s Land.
Rabbi Andy Gordon serves on the clergy team of Temple Sinai of Roslyn.