A Transformational Journey Through America’s History: First Place for Youth Travels to the Legacy Museum Sites 

First Place for Youth is committed to rectifying historical inequities and empowering historically oppressed groups by acknowledging the importance of race, power, privilege, and systemic challenges. The Leadership Team recently visited significant sites in Montgomery, Alabama, including the Legacy Museum, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, and the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, marking a significant step in this commitment. 

The Legacy Museum is a powerful, moving immersion into America’s history of racial injustice. The museum is situated upon a site where enslaved Africans in the Diaspora endured forced labor, and the exhibits narrate the harsh realities of slavery and its enduring legacy using interactive media, first-hand narratives, contemporary artwork, and comprehensive exhibits. The journey through history, from the slave trade to the era of Jim Crow and racial terror in the form of lynchings to mass incarceration, resonated powerfully with the First Place team.  

A member of the program team speaks about how this visit will inform their work, “After visiting the Legacy Museum sites, I am struck by the privilege and responsibility we have to serve our youth well. The injustices of the past that still exist today have created so many inequities for the youth we serve at First Place. This trip renewed my commitment to this work, and to the youth who deserve an equitable opportunity to live a full and happy life.” 

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is a six-acre sacred site that honors over 4,400 Black men, women, and children subjected to racial terror lynchings between 1877 and 1950. The monument bears the engraved names of these victims on more than 800 steel pillars, each representing a county where the horrific events occurred. Perched atop a Montgomery hill, the memorial stands as a tribute to the history of Black Americans who endured enslavement, terror, racial segregation, and wrongful presumptions of guilt and threat.  

A member of our evaluation and learning team says, “This history is a legacy we can never hide from, because only in understanding it can we challenge how that legacy still lives on in the laws, minds, and institutions of this country that we must continue to transform and change for the better.” 

The First Place leadership team ended their journey to Alabama with a visit to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. Acknowledged as a National Historic Landmark, civil rights marchers endured the violent Bloody Sunday beatings here during the initial march for voting rights in 1965. The televised assaults garnered nationwide attention, generating public backing for the civil rights activists in Selma and their voting rights campaign. Subsequently, after the events of Bloody Sunday, protestors were permitted to carry on with their marches, leading to two more demonstrations advocating for voting rights. 

The trip to Alabama was profoundly moving for the First Place leadership team, and the lessons learned will resonate through our work with transition-age foster youth, many of whom have suffered the negative impact of systemic racism. The retreat was paid for by a generous grant from an anonymous donor, and First Place has plans to invite staff members and youth program participants in the future.

Members of the First Place leadership team shared their reflections on their time at these powerful sites. Read below to find out how the experience impacted them. 

From a member of our program team:  

“This quote from Bryan Stevenson really struck me as vital to the work we do at First Place, ‘I am persuaded that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice. I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the respected, and the privileged among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat he poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.’” 

From a member of our human resources team:  

“I wasn’t aware that enslaved Black people built New York, Boston, railroads, warehouses, etc. I also appreciated that Black folks who were lynched were honored with the jars of the dirt that were collected from where they were murdered and honored with the memorial.  

I understand that some folks don’t want to be reminded of the past, but black folks are still being beaten, killed, and jailed in the U.S. today in disproportionate numbers!” 

From a member of our executive team: 

“One of the quotes that really stuck with me was, ‘They took off the white robe and put on a black robe.” This was said by Anthony Ray Hinton, a wrongfully convicted Black man who spent 28 years on death row before having his conviction overturned.” 

From a member of our finance team: 

“The thing that really stood out to me was that statistic that one in three black boys end up incarcerated.  If that is the stat for the whole of the country (presumably) what does it look like for the population that we serve – presumably a lot worse than a number that is already shocking.” 

From a member of our evaluation and learning team: 
“It’s impossible to put into words how powerful that experience was. I was moved, stirred, and shook by the power of the history the Legacy Museum so clearly portrays. It’s a legacy we can never hide from, because only in understanding it can we challenge how that legacy still lives on in the laws, minds, and institutions of this country that we have to continue to transform and change for the better. 

The quote from the National Memorial for Peace & Justice is particularly profound to me: 

‘For the hanged and beaten 
For the shot, drowned, and burned 
For the tortured, tormented, and terrorized 
For those abandoned by the rule of law  
We will remember 
With hope because hopelessness is the enemy of justice 
With courage because peace requires bravery 
With persistence because justice is a constant struggle 
With faith because we shall overcome’

A member of the national partnership team:  

“The array of emotions—sadness, horror, anger, and shame—arose as I confronted the inhumanity, injustices, and enduring wrongs perpetrated primarily by white people in this country. The realization that a larger global economy has perpetuated a financial structure incentivizing the persistence of a system rooted in free labor—originally fueling historical slavery and persisting within the incarceration system—was profoundly disappointing. 

The realization that the resistance to reform birthed an era marked by lynchings and the rise of the KKK was eye-opening. It became clear that the evolution of injustice—from slavery to segregation, protests for equal rights, and the present-day crisis of mass incarceration—manifests the same core of hatred, discrimination, and oppression based on skin color.  

I struggle with the weight of the history and feeling hopeful about the future. It really does beg the question of whether there has been genuine progress or if we merely exchanged shackles in one setting to shackles in another setting. Despite this, I do believe in the significance of effecting change within one’s sphere of influence and if collectively, enough of us focus on effecting long-standing systemic change, and standing up to injustice and inequality, maybe real change can happen.  

Maya Angelou’s words ring true: ‘History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.’” 

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