In his 2017 book Across That Bridge, John Lewis, the Civil Rights hero who died last Friday, wrote, “Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.”
Amid all the passionate words poured out by a heartbroken nation in the days since Lewis’ death, my heart was touched most deeply by his own words – challenging us to DO something – not to hope, or even to pray, though those actions may bring comfort, but to do our part to create the change we want and need.
The quote also brought to mind a refrain I’ve heard frequently since George Floyd’s murder brought on our current national convulsions toward racial justice. Or rather, a refrain I’ve heard from white people: “I want to do something, but I don’t know what.” Or variations thereof.
As noted in my column last month, we may gain some sense of accomplishment by showing up at public programs and protests, by speaking up among friends and co-workers, or by – ahem – writing columns about the enormity of the problem. But at the end of the day, it’s the hard work of systemic change that must take place, and how do we do that?
Peggy Jablonski, an educational consultant of Brewster, found one answer to that question. She had hoped to spend part of her summer hiking El Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. Known popularly as the Camino, it actually comprises numerous pilgrimage routes ranging from 60 to over 600 miles. It is walked or biked by growing throngs of people seeking spiritual growth and insight, or a host of other purposes. The Camino has been traversed by pilgrims and seekers since the Middle Ages.
Obviously, Peggy’s plans were thwarted by the pandemic. Like most of us, as she absorbed the shocking impact of the Coronavirus, she was also moved deeply by the outpouring of rage and demands for change sparked by the murder of George Floyd. She too was gripped by the question: “What can I do?”
In part, Peggy Jablonski came to the realization that her education about the history of people of color in these United States was impoverished, to say the least. In our schools, we learn little about the accomplishments of Black and Native people, nor about the misdeeds of Whites in relation to racial justice.
Jablonski decided to expand her own education, and perhaps that of others, by creating her own Camino right here on Cape Cod. Minimal research revealed that the Cape encompasses dozens of locations, historical markers, and educational opportunities to learn about struggles for justice and the histories of African-American, Cape Verdean, Wampanoag and other peoples of color here on this fragile peninsula. So she designed her own Camino – on eight Wednesdays in July and August, to walk the length of Cape Cod while focusing on these histories in plain sight but little known.
On the first Wednesday, July 8, the walk traversed both sides of the Cape Cod Canal, and the second, July 15, the Shining Sea Path, a seaside road first carved into the landscape by the Wampanoag people along Buzzards Bay. Each week focuses on particular themes, developed through advance reading and enhanced along the way by visits to historical locations and talks with local experts.
This past Wednesday, the route went from Mashpee to Hyannis, including visits to the Wampanoag Museum and the Zion Union Heritage Museum, including talks with local NAACP leader and Zion Museum Director John Reed and some of the artists whose work is displayed there. Next Wednesday, the walk begins at Cape Cod Community College and continues to Yarmouth and Dennis, focusing on education, poverty and food insecurity.
Peggy invites participation in any part or all of the rest of her pilgrimage. For more information, search on Facebook for “Cape Cod Camino Way” and ask to join the group. You’ll see abundant detail about the pilgrimage thus far and plans for the remaining Wednesday walks, as well as other activities through the last walk on Aug. 26 and additional discussions, both in person and via Facebook live. All in-person activities require masks and social distancing.
Don’t just stand there. DO something!
Kathleen Schatzberg is a former president of Cape Cod Community College. Her company Bearwell Strategies specializes in writing, editing and pet care. Her monthly column chronicles community building on Cape Cod.