Day three of the 2020 Civil Rights Trip
Bryan Stevenson published his memoir Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption in 2014.
Gordon began meeting with his legal staff at the Montgomery offices of his Equal Justice Initiative in 2016.
Their work has grown to reach a global audience, and today, Gordon's group was alongside tour groups from San Francisco, Toronto and Vienna at the EJI's Legacy Museum, which opened in 2019.
The Legacy Museum is part of EJI's efforts to explain contemporary mass incarceration in the context of America's history of slavery, segregation, convict leasing and racialized violence.
It is in a former slave warehouse in downtown Montgomery.
Photos are not allowed inside.
In the first multimedia exhibit, visitors peer through windows to hear actors portraying enslaved people, telling wrenching stories of kidnapping, captivity and family separation.
At the end of the exhibit, they hear formerly incarcerated youth using similar language to tell parallel stories, through plate glass windows, listening through telephone receivers.
In between, thoughtful, heavily documented displays trace the economic, social and legal forces that have kept African American captive to white supremacy for four hundred years.
When Gordon first began visiting the Equal Justice Initiative, their conference room had shelves of jars filled with soil.
The jars were labeled with dates, city names and, sometimes, names.
The soil had been taken from the sites of lynchings.
The jars were the EJI's first project commemorating the victims of racial violence in America.
The names from those jars, and thousands more, are on the pillars at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the EJI's second project commemorating the victims of racial violence in America.
It's a radical extension of the mission for EJI, which describes itself as a "nonprofit human rights law firm."
As one of Gordon's EJI hosts explained today: "We needed to help our clients."
"We could not deny that America's history of racial violence was impacting our clients."
"And we saw a way to serve our clients by educating people about that history, and maybe changing that history along the way."
Or as another EJI voice said, "Understanding how today's criminal justice crisis is rooted in our country's history of racial injustice requires truthfully facing that history and its legacy."
The final stop in Montgomery was Dexter Baptist Church, proudly described as "the only church where Dr. King served as pastor."
Students were greeted at the door with hugs.
Ms. Wanda Battle gave Gordon a blast of warmth and love.
It was a welcome change of tone after a quiet morning spent reflecting on lynching and mass incarceration.
Ms. Battle had students in and out of their seats over and over, singing and laughing.
She quizzed Dr. Thomas López on Dr. King facts and dates.
She had everyone chanting the I Have A Dream speech in unison.
She did a solo rendition of the Mountaintop speech.
When random tourists wandered in, she drew them into the conversation and did not let them leave.
Soon there was a crowd.
It was a history presentation in the form of joyful worship.
On every day of this trip, Gordon students have heard people speak frankly about the central role of the Christian church in their lives.
Sometimes it's been an expression of personal faith.
Sometimes it's just the way the church keeps popping up, as landmark and gathering place, in people's stories.
To a group of children raised mostly in the North, it has come as a bit of a surprise.
Ms. Battle's presentation, then, served as a clue.
A church full of people like Ms. Battle is a church people are going to talk about.
A faith like Ms. Battle's is a faith that is going to be visible in everything a person does.
In her own words:
Some people think that showing courage is protesting in the streets.
I say that courage is shown by how you treat each other every day.
Gordon students, when you go to school, do you notice each other?
Do you encourage each other?
Do you congratulate each other?
Do you have the courage to show love to each other?
Do you have the courage to support your trans brothers and sisters? Your LGBT neighbors?
Do you have the courage to let your love show in everything you do?
It has been a long trip.
These students are far from home.
They've been challenged on a number of levels, all week long.
After an hour with Ms. Battle, shared with their friends and teachers, they're ready to approach whatever comes next with love.