Stritch student connects with history in nation's capital
By Ali Jablonsky, '13
“We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.”
“Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke these words almost 50 years ago as he described his dream. And these are the words that led me to witness the inauguration of President Barack Obama in January.
Though our journey from Milwaukee to Washington, D.C., couldn’t compete with the many marches that pushed the Civil Rights Movement forward, we experienced moments along our journey that challenged us. More than 40 of us from the Stritch community crammed on a bus, driving 14 hours straight until we arrived at our temporary home: a church basement. The next couple of days we walked the city in the midst of huge crowds, all gathering to see the inauguration. This journey reminded me of another one of Dr. King’s famous lessons: “We cannot walk alone.”
Only two years earlier, I rode a
different bus as part of a group of Stritch students and staff traveling on a
civil rights pilgrimage. Getting to follow in Dr. King’s footsteps forever
changed my own path, inspiring me to lead a life fighting for civil rights.
After that trip, I became a registered voter and promised to use my voice and
my actions to speak for equality. This is why I came on the inauguration trip;
I wanted to be in a place I could connect with what occurred in the past, in
that very place where Dr. King delivered those messages that now drive my every step.
Because we only had four days, every
day of our trip was packed. We moved from the Pentagon to the Vietnam Memorial
to a Franciscan monastery with many stops in between and the evenings open for
our own exploration. The first night of our stay, I traveled with classmates to
see the Lincoln Memorial, the place where Dr. King first told us of his dream.
It was late at night and everything was dark. When we saw the steps, we froze.
No photographs or descriptions could have prepared me to meet Lincoln. On the
civil rights pilgrimage, the foot soldiers we met spoke of “silent courage.” I
didn’t understand the meaning of those words until I joined my peers to stand
in Lincoln’s presence. As we stood in his shadow and looked out at the mall
that was once filled with crowds, I reverenced the history that happened on the
steps where I stood.
Many miles later, we arrived at our
final destination – the inauguration. My mind raced through moments of history,
thinking of how my past shaped every moment of the present. As different choirs
and bands performed, my thoughts moved between the past and the present until
President Obama began to speak.
people, declare today that the most evident of truths –- that all of us are
created equal –- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our
forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all
those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great
Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim
that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul
As the president’s words covered and
wrapped around me, I stopped moving from the past into the present and lost
track of time altogether. I lost the identity of myself, and my trip
transformed from an educational journey of historical exploration into a
spiritual pilgrimage. I was swallowed by an overpowering awe as I felt tied to
every American in true community. President Obama became the first president to
mention equal love, and an elderly woman in front of me turned around and we
shed simultaneous tears. In that moment
I realized I was a part of a day that would shape history. I was no longer
trying to connect with the time when Dr. King spoke of his dream; I was
witnessing his words taking shape.
Going to the inauguration allowed me
to take all that has inspired me from our nation’s past and pave my own path. I
got to be a part of shaping our nation’s future. This empowerment is one that
is not reserved for the Harvey Milks, Susan B. Anthonys, and the Martin Luther
Kings; it is a road open to all American citizens and one I hope every citizen
takes the time to travel.
View a photo gallery of the D.C. trip on our Facebook page.