In early February, National Young Leadership Cabinet (NYLC) took 85 members of their chevra from 27 Federation communities to Birmingham for their first ever domestic mission — this year, a Civil Rights Mission. Three NYLC members from Los Angeles represented our Federation. The trip started at Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma, where the civil rights activists gathered in 1965 to march to the state capital in Montgomery, protesting segregation and demanding the right to vote. The group then visited the Rosa Parks Museum and the Equal Justice Initiative Legacy Museum & Memorial, also in Montgomery. The following day, the group toured Selma and crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge — the site of “Bloody Sunday,” a key flashpoint in the fight for racial equality and, several weeks later, a peaceful march from Selma to Montgomery that inspired the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and MLK’s rousing speech, “How Long, Not Long.” Cabinet walked across the Bridge, through the footsteps of history, remembering that 54 years ago, those fighting for equality in the spirit of non-violence were met on the other side by state troopers armed with batons and tear gas. More than 25,000 people stood by Martin Luther King, where he urged the protesters to have patience, because “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel described the experience: “For many of us, the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips, and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.”
The group had the great pleasure of meeting numerous giants in the community including Joanne Bland, Co-founder of the National Voting Rights Museum and active in the civil rights movement since her childhood, in her hometown of Selma. She witnessed Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus Bridge and was arrested 13 times before her 11th birthday as a result of her activism. For Shabbat, the mission returned to Birmingham and joined with the Temple Beth El community for services and a dinner dedicated to the Southern Jewish Experience. The trip also included a visit to Freedom Park, the 16th Street Baptist Church, the Civil Rights Institute, and the Mt. Canaan Full Gospel Church.
This mission — which included Cabinet alumni and family members in addition to current chevra — ignited our conscience and engaged our values as Jewish leaders. It opened our eyes to a chapter of history that we knew about but now understand on a much deeper level. As Cabinet members returned to our Federation communities, we bring a sharper eye and greater awareness of our commitment to be a “light unto the nations” and to join with others who share our values to bring justice, peace, and healing to a polarized world. We are reminded that even one small step toward change makes a difference and that we are to be like the stars illuminating the world wherever there is darkness. And, as MLK said, “With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”
Are you interested in joining Federation’s National Young Leadership Cabinet to experience incredible travel opportunities like this? Applications are now available and open until May 3rd! Contact Alexi Biener Baker at ABiener@JewishLA.org or at (323) 761-8386 for more information.