Reflections on the Equal Justice Initiative’s Museum and Memorial

Twenty Florence Project staff members had the opportunity to visit the Equal Justice Initiative’s Museum and Memorial in Montgomery, AL. Below are their reflections, in their own words, and photos from the visit.

“I struggle to put into words the emotions I felt after this experience. Having the opportunity to visit EJI’s Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice was a very humbling experience. As an immigrant and person of color, I was able to connect with it on a personal and professional level. This experience was reflective and educational, but I think this was the point for the creators, to make these sacred spaces. Both spaces were beautifully built in connecting the true history of slavery to mass incarceration. All the information at the museum made me think about justice, equality and how to make changes.

“I migrated well after segregation ended. I did not experience the pain of seeing segregation signs.  Seeing actual segregation signs and language used towards people of color was hurtful but reflective of how we were and currently seen: as people whose color of skin is seen as a threat. These emotions only encourage me to be a change in the world through the work I do with Florence Project. As a social worker I was able to reflect, and [it] revitalized my passion for justice.

“I saw the parallels of the work done by the Equal Justice Initiative and the Florence Project. [The exhibit] showed letters [that lawyers had] received from the individuals they work with in the prison. One really stood out to me: the individual wrote to their attorney asking [the legal team] not to continue with the appeal to stop the death sentence; that person had lost hope in being released from prison. I recently worked with a young woman who lost hope in being able to be released from the [immigration] detention center and asked to not continue to appeal her deportation order. It was not safe for her to return to her home country, but she did not want to continue being detained. Seeing these letters I couldn’t help but think of how the prison and immigration systems are similar. After this experience, I have been thinking about what else I [can] do for the individuals we work with and how I can advocate for a just system.” – Mayra Alvarado, LMSW, Social Worker

“There is no place like Montgomery, Alabama. The energy felt in Montgomery is unlike any other. The years upon years of historical trauma from slavery and all of the effects there after, are seeped everywhere. It radiates from the ground outward and sends waves every which way, demanding that we remember and that we must do better. Going to The Legacy Museum and The Memorial was a reminder of how far we have come and how much more work there still is to do. We still fall short as a country, and it is evident with the mass incarceration of people of color. Meeting an EJI staff member and EJI client was by far my favorite part of this trip. Their lived experiences, as someone immersed in the work and someone being directly impacted was heart wrenching but so incredibly inspiring. While there are so many obstacles and barriers both staff and those unjustly accused look to the light to fight a system that again and again fails our people. Their brilliance and strength to look forward but not be ignorant to the ugly realities people face is something to aspire to. This trip provoked a lot of self-reflection and made me ask myself what I am doing in my own daily work to do justice by people.” – Denise Rebeil, Children’s Team Legal Assistant

“This was a great trip. Visiting the legacy museum and the memorial is something that every American should do. Unfortunately, those that most need to see them are those that will feel least compelled to go. The work that EJI has done over the decades parallels the work we do in many interesting ways. Their work is fundamentally tied to respect for the dignity of every individual; the museum unearths the deep ties between the atrocities being committed in modern times with their obvious historical antecedents.  We live in a system predicated on cheap labor and the subjugation and dehumanization of subclasses of people. Whether it is in prison or in detention centers, people of color are still marginalized, dehumanized, and exploited for both financial and political gain. We work with people trapped in a similar vice.” – Alexandra Miller, Esq., Kino Border Initiative Fellow

“Visiting the Legacy Museum was truly an amazing experience. In high school and college, you learn about the numbers of people killed, kidnapped, terrorized, and incarcerated. As you walk through the museum, however, you are able to hear and read the stories who have been victims of slavery and its legacy. It is evident that the United States continues to suffer from this painful legacy. I learned that EJI has documented two lynches that occurred in California. Both of those lynches occurred in the county were my family lives. You don’t learn a fact like that without being stung by the violence and pain of racial injustice.” – Brenda Morales Meza, Children’s Team Legal Assistant

“The museum evokes a lot of emotions. As soon as you walk in there is a sign that reads that you are standing on what use to be an old warehouse where slaves were kept to be auctioned off. As I walked through the museum I kept on coming to the same conclusion – that the vile treatment of African Americans in our country is due to the government’s and society’s ineptitude to learn from one of the darkest and sickest events in American History, slavery. And that the lack of addressing slavery led to Jim Crow laws and the violence that accompanied them, with a lot of that being lynching. Which was then slowly followed by the struggle of the Civil Rights movement. And finally to the present day issue of mass incarceration, which many of those incarcerated are black and brown people. But not only that, the lack of education in neighborhoods that are predominantly of people of color, or the access to healthcare, clean and healthy food and water, housing, jobs, so many issues with which brown and black folks struggle more than white folks. It’s not fair. And all these have one root in common, slavery. When the government and our society as a whole can understand that, profound changes that address race can be made to have a more fair and equitable society. The work EJI does led me to a lot of parallels that FIRRP does. One of them being the continuing fight we both do in giving our clients a fair and balanced opportunity to justice.” – Alvaro Perez Gonzalez, Asylum Legal Assistant