Above the Clouds: A Reflection on the 2012 Soulforce Equality Ride Training
By Equality Rider Chelsea Fullerton
I don’t get the opportunity to fly often, so when I do, I can’t help but stare out the window as much as possible, mesmerized by the striking panorama that is our earth. My flight back to Atlanta from the 2012 Soulforce Equality Ride training in Miami was no exception – plus, I was luckily positioned in a window seat that allowed me to soak up the scenery during my two-hour journey. As the day was overcast and gray, I was struck by the stark transitions visible in the six-by-eight inch frame; the world outside was transformed from dull to brilliant in the span of a few minutes as we pierced the thick cover of clouds and entered the vast expanse of the sky above. The moment sparked within me a combination of awe and reflection.
I thought about the knowledge I had acquired over the whirlwind of the past nine days, and the people from which I acquired it. I thought about the hours we spent discussing classism, racism, ageism, ableism, sexism, heterosexism, and cisgenderism, and the structures formed by these paradigms that ultimately enable the privileged to exercise their power over the marginalized. I thought about the hurt that I saw in the faces of each of us as we were forced to come to terms with things within ourselves that caused us to feel shame, anger, and regret – lingering reminders of the pervasive influence of these structures. And I thought about the incredible bond that we formed as a result of our journey together, the love that united us in a collective commitment to work against these oppressive forces, under which we all must live and promote true equality for all.
What I remember most fondly about those nine days of intentional conversation, shared meals, powerful stories, and blissful laughter were the moments, however brief, that took us above the clouds of oppression in our own lives. Make no mistake – we felt the weightiness of prejudice and discrimination, and the powerlessness that comes with our inability to protect ourselves and those we care about from their shadow. We felt the unnerving darkness of the financial insecurity, familial tension, and uncertainty about the future that awaited us upon our return to the places we called home. In other words, even in an environment where we were each loved and respected unconditionally, we could not escape the cruel reminders of the injustices in which we live.
But interspersed throughout these moments of pain, frustration, and fear were other moments – singular instances of almost otherworldly nature. In those moments, we pierced the gray haze. In those moments, we soared together. They took place unexpectedly, serendipitously. They happened when we were vulnerable, sharing our hearts with one another. They happened when we silently stood in a circle, holding hands that gently transferred our squeezed expression of love. They happened when our voices joined to sing the evocative, resounding chorus, “We’ll flood the streets with justice; we are freedom bound.” They happened when we wept tears of joyful poignancy, realizing that our souls have become inexplicably intertwined with sixteen others.
It is for these moments, I realize, that we press on through the seemingly endless days of gray, for they are what remind us that we are part of a story much greater than ourselves. After all, from afar, the clouds are merely spots – pinpricks compared to the measureless expanse of the beauty that, though at times hidden, constantly surrounds us. The Equality Ride exists to bring people into that beauty, to remind them that the sunlight is real when darkness is all that they can see. It is through these realizations that lives are saved, hearts are renewed, and justice is accomplished. I am both honored and humbled to have experienced what life is like above the clouds, and dedicate the coming months – and beyond – to ensuring that all see the light.
About the Blogger:
An advocate and ally from Athens, GA, Chelsea wholeheartedly believes in the fundamental worth of all people and strives to empower them to gain the tools and opportunities that they need to find meaning in life.
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