Walking through the streets of Montgomery was surreal for me. All my life, I’ve been interested in civil rights. I’ve read, written, and learned about civil rights but never have I lived it until Selma. When we were in Montgomery, it struck me that I was not afraid of anything. I felt safe. I had no fear that I would be harassed or beaten or ridiculed for walking down the street with my black friends. I was not afraid to sit next to them in a church pew only a few feet from where Dr. King once preached his peace. It occurred to me that those before me were afraid. They knew that if they did what I did they would be harmed in some way. People would not accept the mixing of blacks and whites in friendship or anything else.
Standing outside of Brown Chapel in Selma was an important moment of the trip. It wasn’t because of all the famous people nearby or even the significance of the church in the Civil Rights movement. It was when the crowd around me began to sing that I felt a part of something bigger. I joined in, and we were all connected in song. It made us powerful somehow. Then being a part of the worship service at Shiloh Baptist Church brought on even more power. The energy from the pulpit and the pews just radiated unity. People shouted and openly agreed with the sermon. I sat quietly observing, but my mind was racing along with my heart. It was an experience like no other and a very resonating message that I’ll carry with me for a long time. Being able to experience the different culture within the church is important for cultivating an open and tolerant mind, and I’m so thankful for the experience.
Standing on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in the morning before all the people arrived was perhaps more moving than the later bridge-crossing with thousands. The quiet morning air just hung heavy with history and more importantly a legacy. Knowing that fifty years ago people risked their lives on the very bridge I was standing on for the rights I take for granted gave me an entirely new perspective on life. People ask me why I wanted to cross the bridge at Selma. What was I fighting for? Before I went to Selma, I thought I was marching for the history of it. However, after experiencing Selma, I realize that I was marching for rights that are still being fought for. I was marching for racial equality. I was marching for gender equality. I was marching for sexual equality. I was marching so that one day I can teach my children through my own life experiences such as Selma what it means to be accepting of all people. I was marching so that I can teach those around me that all lives matter.
Chelsea Mathes was born on the Mississippi Gulf Coast on March 6, 1995. She moved to Tennessee at 15 and now studies psychology at Tennessee Tech University.