This post was written by educator and National Geographic Explorer Ashley Lamb-Sinclair.
Last summer, while my community of Louisville, Kentucky – and the world – took to the streets in protest of the killing of Breonna Taylor, I participated in a Healing Ceremony hosted by Black Lives Matter Louisville. My goal was to be quiet, to listen, and to respond as requested by the leaders who guided us. An educator-turned-city-councilman colleague, Jecorey Arthur, led the ceremony with several others. I listened quietly as Jecorey schooled me and the crowd – like any talented teacher would – on the sacred history of the very ground on which we stood. He shared that a century and a half prior where we stood had been an auction block for the trade of enslaved people in the region. He elaborated, with detailed knowledge, upon the assaults, abuses, and inhumane treatment enacted upon Black human beings by the city itself and its institutions year after year – on purpose. He spoke of the current fight for justice and the reasons we had all gathered at that very moment. And in a particular salt-in-the-wound moment, he noted that the place where we stood was now a multi-million dollar arena where people from across the region come to watch basketball and enjoy concerts. I, myself, had paid a hefty price for a ticket to see Weezer there just months before.
I have lived in Louisville since 2008, and in Kentucky my whole life, having never known or learned these stories. I never knew that every step I took in my own community stepped upon and over an opportunity to remember the humanity of the people who walked before us. And those steps also represented so many who lead work for change in the present. It was in that moment, while listening to Jecorey Arthur, I realized the gravity of how our land, history, and humanity are woven inextricably into a knotted braid of our society’s greatest shame – and our most powerful opportunities for growth. It was that moment when I realized that as long as these steps are taken without truly knowing the history of our land and the true stories of the people who lived and continue to live here, we will never escape the shame of our past, heal our present, or walk into a just future.
My initial role as a 2020 National Geographic Education Fellow was to develop a concept called “real time learning” – a concept that had only been seeded, but I had been tasked with understanding and experimenting around. Listening to Jecorey Arthur speak was the moment when the idea of “real time learning” became a visceral understanding. Just as I had been questioning my own life’s work educating young people without properly understanding the layers of injustice in my own community, many other educators were doing the same. Many of my colleagues were asking hard questions of themselves, the education system, and taking action against injustice. Young activists demanded more just ways of learning from their schools. These were big, universal questions and actions, but they were also hyper-local questions and actions too. My experience as a Louisvillian last summer was the same – but also very distinct – from the experiences of my colleagues around the country and world. It occurred to me that nothing could be more “real time learning” than connecting living social justice activism, community-led place-based stories, and the real time experiences of educators and young people.
Thus, 2892 Miles to Go Geographic Walk for Justice was born.
Just as Jecorey opened my eyes to invisible, ignored, and disregarded stories of my own community, there are millions of these stories everywhere. While for many these stories are lived experiences, the stories await acknowledgement from all of us – sitting there like unearthed gemstones. There are 2892 miles across the continental United States, and each of those miles represents many lost or invisible stories that could reveal unknown or unacknowledged truths about justice, race, and equity in communities everywhere. 2892 Miles to Go – Geographic Walk for Justice is a social justice geo-inquiry movement amplifying community stories led and told by those who live there. Our hope is to become the antidote to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s eloquent definition of “The Danger of a Single Story” by holding space and elevating the stories of many.
Like most great ideas, 2892 Miles to Go has been shaped by many, many voices and leaders. In the beginning, I sought advice from the National Geographic Education team, but also respected colleagues and social justice leaders as the seed of the idea took shape. A handful of those educators remain involved in 2892 as members of educators from across the U.S. who help shape the vision and scope of the overall project.
Each of these educators have extensive experience in social justice leadership and activism and have been critical collaborators of 2892 from its inception. Our hope is that each of them will tell their own stories in the months to come, as well as share the community work they are leading with 2892.
In addition to our vision setters, our community storytellers walk selected routes in their own communities in an effort to re-examine, retell, and reteach stories of justice embedded within human history and culture. Community storytellers shape, lead, and tell stories of social justice within their own communities in order to catalyze and collaborate with educators and young people who also want to explore authentic community stories that have traditionally been ignored in textbooks. During the first half of 2021, we will support three Community STorytelling Journeys in different communities in an effort to unearth the forgotten or mistold stories within them.
I was given the great honor to collaborate with three 2892 Louisville storytellers – Lance G. Newman II, Marlesha Woods, and Kenneth Woods – who led the inaugural 2892 Community Storytelling Journey and worked diligently with our story-mapper and National Geographic Education Fellow, Anita Palmer, to capture the community stories they felt needed to be shared. They are storytellers, artists, and community leaders in the ongoing racial justice work in Louisville that began long before last summer and will continue far beyond this project. The stories they have crafted as the first storytellers of the 2892 Miles to Go movement are rich, honest, poignant examples of how compassion and humanity is lost within systems of oppression, and their leadership has paved a pathway for future community stories to bloom. Later, Louisville educators will lead their own exploratory journeys with their students inspired by these community storytellers in hopes that the steps we walk in our city are no longer unknown or unsung. My own journey has been enriched by these three storytellers, and my deepest hope is that many in my community and beyond will listen and learn from what they have created.
Over the coming months, community storytellers in St. Paul, Minnesota led by Jaraux Washington and Amarillo, Texas led by Dr. Shanna Peeples will also walk journeys and illuminate stories in their local communities. These stories will unfold and come alive for all of us through the eyes of those who will tell them.
Beginning with these journeys, we hope to begin a movement to listen, learn, and take action guided by community storytellers who have led and continue to lead in these communities. There are 2892 miles across the continental United States. It is long past time to walk them together, and we hope you will join us for the journey.
Follow along with #2892MilestoGo and on https://www.2892walk.org/ in the months ahead.
Feature image by Unsplash