Who knew a one-week trip could change you so much? I was one of the fortunate students given the opportunity to participate in the Civil Rights Pilgrimage this past summer. Beforehand, I thought the trip would be a big history lesson in which I learned more about the civil rights movement that changed our country 50 years ago. I was also excited to make my first trip outside Wisconsin, visiting other states for the first time in my life!
But much more was in store for me. The Pilgrimage didn’t just take me to new places and add to what I already knew. Because of the trip, I’m not just a listener anymore. It changed me on a personal and spiritual level. Now I want to help my friends and family better understand our faith and how important it is to put our beliefs into action.
Over the course of the weeklong Pilgrimage, my understanding of what it means to be Catholic changed substantially. I realized that I’m part of a specific religion, but I still share beliefs with people from many other religious backgrounds. Even though we declare ourselves as Catholic, Lutheran or Protestant, we still believe in the same God and the same Jesus. People from many religious backgrounds powered the civil rights movement, and it shows what can happen when people of faith work together.
The Pilgrimage also made me have more faith in our generation. Young people much like me and my friends were a big part of the civil rights movement. They changed history with their beliefs and commitment to them. They showed positive change is possible. Young people today want to continue to make our country fairer, with equal opportunity for all.
Afterward, I was surprised by how much the Pilgrimage had changed me. Beforehand, I was considered the quiet girl. During the Pilgrimage, I learned to open up to people. In Camp Chandler in Alabama, during our group reflection at the end of the day, I told a personal story involving my family’s experience with racism. I told the story because I felt called that this was the perfect time to let my voice be heard. As I told my story, I burst into tears because this was the first time I had ever expressed myself emotionally in front of a large group. I told myself that it’s all right to feel emotionally vulnerable because humans aren’t perfect. If I don’t share my experiences, how can I expect others to share theirs?
Entering the new school year, I realized my junior year could and should be different from my first two years. I’m becoming less of a listener and more of a leader. I’ve come from the Pilgrimage, where most of us came from different backgrounds and were from different races. Listening and sharing my opinion more has opened the doors to new friendships — friendships created by understanding different backgrounds and the different views that result. I’m more involved with my classmates and my community.