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Inaugural Faith and Justice Spring Break Trip to National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama

From March 10-12, 2022, ten Pepperdine Caruso Law students traveled to Montgomery, Alabama for the law school’s first Faith and Justice spring break trip.  Sponsored by the Nootbaar Institute on Law, Religion and Ethics with support from the law school’s office of Student Life, Diversity and Belonging, the trip was aimed at providing participants with a transformative experience in which to explore challenging questions of faith, justice, race, law, history, and ethics. The trip was planned by Dean Chalak Richards, Professor Jeff Baker, Nootbaar Institute Co-Director and Professor Jennifer Koh, and Nootbaar Institute Manager Allyse Wesolowski.  

“Collectively immersing ourselves in the deeply uncomfortable history of racial injustice in this country, emotionally investing in the hard conversations and grieving in the silence all made for a stirring experience so powerful it was almost palpable,” stated first-year student Brandi Coleman.  “My admiration for my peers and faculty on this trip is boundless and no other experience in my 1L year compares.”

A key highlight of the trip included a visit to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a public memorial developed by attorney Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) and author of the book Just Mercy, to honor victims of lynching and racial violence in the US.  The National Memorial was described in the Washington Post as "one of the most powerful and effective new memorials created in a generation." Participants also visited the Legacy Museum, an EJI-sponsored museum that according to its website “provides a comprehensive history of the United States with a focus on the legacy of slavery”; held a private discussion with an EJI senior attorney; and met with local attorneys in the Montgomery area.  On the last day of the trip, Professor Baker led participants on a walking tour of downtown Montgomery, which included visits to civil rights landmarks such as the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church (led by Martin Luther King, Jr. from 1954-1960), former slave auction blocks, the final steps of the Selma to Montgomery march, and the site of Rosa Parks’ initiation of the Montgomery Bus Boycotts.  

During the trip, students were asked to reflect upon their experiences through the lens of faith, the legal profession, and the role of law. Participants shared scriptural verses, speech excerpts, songs, and creative literature. The students who attended were Iasia Beh, Brandi Coleman, Derek Kliewer, Katelyn Koegel, Cara MacDonald, Cooper McHatton, Marielle Sider, Aiden Van Tol,  Ajeya Woods, and Keyana Young.

The trip stirred up powerful responses amongst participants. First-year student Keyana Young shared the following:  “As a black woman born in the south, I live the losing side of systemic racism, and majority white America’s historical denial of systemic racism almost made me believe black people’s struggles were simply a product of our own lack of work ethic or an inclination towards crime. Outliers like President Obama, made me resent ordinary black men like my own brother, convicted of burglary at 19, unable to overcome unbearable persecution led by our very own federal and state governments.  The Chair of the Alabama Constitutional Convention stated that the purpose of the document was to 'establish white supremacy within federal limitations,' and the State Constitution still contains explicit vestiges of this intent.  But those messages are implied in every corner of this country. The Montgomery trip confirmed that I’ve been gaslighted my whole life, and the character and potential of black people is mutually exclusive to the narratives and policies upholding white supremacy.  We all need to start seeking the true history of this country and its genocide of black people because until we reconcile with our past and current racism, all of our futures and the lives of our children will continue to be burdened by unnecessary pain.”  

On Monday, March 28th at 12:30pm in Classroom B, the Nootbaar Institute and the Office of Diversity and Belonging will offer a time of reflection from the Faith and Justice Spring Break trip to Montgomery, Alabama. The students who attended the trip will share their experiences, the impact of the trip, and how they will use what they learned at Caruso Law and in the legal profession.  All are welcome to attend, and lunch will be provided. Please register at Faith and Justice Reflections

Students with memorial statues