4 moments from Day 2 of the JL Fellowship

[1] On my walk to the National Center for Civil & Human Rights this morning (Atlanta, Georgia); I fell into conversation with a Fellow who backpacked throughout Guatemala doing field work to investigate the dark side of “fair-trade coffee” and why it might hurt more than help…hope to have a post about it coming in the future.

[2] Day 2 and I cried already, dammit. In the NCCHR, which is a tremendous exhibit that covers everything from the civil rights movement in the US to free speech around the world/current and past regimes/ apartheid etc., the most striking part for me was the Lunch Counter Simulation. It looked unassuming. For those who don’t know what “lunch counter sit-ins” are, in the US during the black community’s campaign for legal equality, they would sit in at food/lunch counters in stores. This was because schools, public facilities, transportation, etc. were separate for “whites only” or “coloured” – and in stores, black people were not allowed to order food/a cup of coffee from the counter, since that was for “whites only.”

The volunteer nodded me towards one of the four tall stools. “Sit on a stool, put the headphones on, put your hands on the handprints outlined on the counter in front of you, and if you want, close your eyes.” In front of each stool was a large timer, that would count from 0:00 to 2:00 minutes. Slid onto a stool, slid headphones on, put my hands down, and stared at the timer.

0:01 – a warm, grandfatherly voice with a mixture of pride and pain, sighs.

0:04 the voice says reassuringly, “Oh, it’s gonna be alright. Take a deep breath. This is your first sit-in, isn’t it? Take a breath.”

0:08 I started to cry but I have to keep my hands on the counter, it hasn’t even started yet and my face is a teary mess without hands to wipe at it.

0:09 The noises started – of the death threats, of the cruel words, of the voice passing from one side to the other to simulate people breathing down your neck and crowding around your back menacingly – but your hands are on the counter, because this is a campaign of non-violence, and you cannot turn around and defend yourself if they – glass breaks, perhaps in real life it would’ve been over your head, but you keep your hands on the counter.

Someone threatens to stab you with a fork in various parts, to go after your family, but you don’t turn around or block defensively, keep your hands on the counter. The chair vibrates gently to simulate the kicks and shoves, you hear the noises of punches, but you sit straight and keep your hands on the counter.

the red digits finally melt into 2:00. Afterwards, another Fellow points out to me how toned-down this version was – they took out the N-word and the sexual assault threats that surely were uttered.

My God, how in the world did this get reduced down to a dry sentence in a textbook, stating “and these activists participated in lunch counter sit-ins”? How did they find the strength to sit there, for an hour, for a whole week, for more than that, and not be cowed? And not be given to the human instinct of turning around and putting your hands up to defend yourself from blows? Knowing you have no real legal recourse, because the police aren’t going to bother defending you?

I’m in awe of the black community in the U.S. and the strength they have brought and continue to bring in the fight for true equality (social/political/economic).

[3] Lunch break – sat at a table with two other Fellows. One Fellow was my age, from Denmark – previously worked in military intelligence, founded a non-profit to address mental illness/advocate for cognitive therapy and education over a “just prescribe pills”-only approach, conducted workshops and consulting on public speaking (turns out we’re both ex-World’s Format debaters), and aspires to work for their country to combat extremism. Wow. The other Fellow had a tremendous personal story I can’t share on here, is a fount of knowledge on the ethics of Asian/African economic exchanges (if you have no idea what that means, I didn’t/don’t either…I asked SO many questions), and is an activist/leader on campus. Incredible people. [sidebar…how the f*ck did i get into this program…]

[4] The Baton Rouge, Louisiana shooting this week; the news today is that an investigation of the police officers has been opened.



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