(Appeared in the Summer 2020 Project Pilgrimage Newsletter.)
Riding on the bus during a Pilgrimage can be a unique experience. You often sit with a new person each day, as we switch up seat partners to promote conversation. On my first Pilgrimage, my initial assigned seat was next to civil rights hero, Bob Zellner. I remember asking him about his lifetime of activism and how it looked for him now as an elder. Even today, he still possesses the same fiery, optimistic, and sometimes radical outlook about nonviolent direct action as a means to achieving widespread racial equity. The idea of meeting the type of violence Bob Zellner experienced with a nonviolent approach and a belief that all people can change for the better is difficult to comprehend. To hear his stories firsthand is a gift worth treasuring.
I was recently speaking with Bob and he reflected on the pandemic and its impact on communities of color, as well as the change that has come from the protests across the country for Black Lives and against police brutality. We spoke about his role in the civil rights movement as the first white field secretary in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the connection to today’s social justice movements. Formerly complacent white folk are newly active in the Black Lives Matter movement and he acknowledged this encouraging shift. This is the moment that he and so many others in movements of the past worked hard for; the moment of change he hoped to see realized in his lifetime.
Bob Zellner has been an important partner and a fixture on our Pilgrimages since the early days. The Pilgrimage draws in aspiration from the freedom rides that he took with other leaders like Bernard Lafayette and John Lewis. Their lives are testaments to finding the good in people and as we remember the lives and honor the work of heroes like Lewis, CT Vivian and Joseph Lowery, I ask that every reader join me in dedicating this moment – this movement – to the heroes who paved the way for a better future.
Monuments and symbols of white supremacy are falling across the country, so let us recognize the real heroes of this nation. The women and men, like Bob Zellner and John Lewis who deserve to have statues erected in every city and their names emblazoned on the bridges that connect our past to our present. This is who we should be. This is at the core or our work at Project Pilgrimage. Changing the narrative and taking action.
Take care and hope to see you all soon!