Last Sunday at 7 p.m. in the Interfaith Common Space of the Thompson Chapel basement, students gathered for a “Discussion on the Power of Valuing Differences.” During this meeting, gospel choir songs, a poem on the nature of the atrocity and an a cappella performance highlighted the College’s observance of Four Girls Jubilee, the 50th anniversary of the Birmingham church bombing that killed four girls. After this talk, a group discussion was held on “the power of valuing differences” in order to enhance everyone’s lives.
The Four Girls Jubilee was a tragic event that is unfortunately often forgotten in its historical context. This year marks the 50th anniversary of a variety of defining American cultural moments, including Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington and President Kennedy’s assassination. In addition to these major historical events, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Four Girls Jubilee. The Four Girls Jubilee was a hate crime committed by the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and carried out at the 16th Street Baptist Church. On Sept. 15, 1963, at 10:22 a.m., Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair were killed by a bomb detonated under their church as they prepared to lead youth services that morning at the 16th Street Baptist Church. The KKK placed 122 sticks of dynamite under the steps of the church, which was frequented by King and had served as a rallying point for the Civil Rights Movement. The dynamite exploded as 26 children were walking into the basement to listen to the sermon “The Love That Forgives.”
The wickedness of such an event as well as the painful loss of the girls was reinforced by the performances of the evening. Perhaps most moving was the poem written and read by Rika Tucker-Shabazz ’17. Shabazz wrote the poem from the perspective of one of the mothers who lost her child in the explosion. “The ringing of memories in my brain turning inside out … the turbulent turmoil spinning through all of my pain that was ever-present when I walked past her room,” Shabazz read from her poem, noticeably affecting and bringing emotion to the audience members. Accompanied by gospel choir songs before the poem and an a cappella performance after, the presentations before the dialogue was as thought provoking and essential as the dialogue itself thanks to those who performed and honored the four victims of the bombing.
Taj Smith, assistant director of the Davis Center, and Elanie Wilson ’15 led the subsequent dialogue about the power of valuing differences. The discussion focused on differences in social settings such as gender, race, religion and sexual orientation. Starting with group members sharing stories and perspectives based on past experiences, each member of the conversation provided insights that illustrated times when their differences and the differences of others affected them. Smith and Wilson developed the conversation by encouraging people to elaborate so the scope of the ideas in the discussion grew from personal experiences to differences in communities and throughout the world. Each member of the conversation provided insights that illustrated times when their differences and the differences of others affected them. By listening to perspectives and ideas of the group members, the discussion created an environment in which each participant realized why every member of the discussion was unique and why that is a reason to embrace and support each other, rather than separate and reject one another. While it is often our similarities that draw us together, it is our differences that define and deepen the relationships we have. The performances and discussion created an environment of acceptance that serves as the lasting legacy of the Civil Rights Movement.