Last Updated on September 9, 2015 by bvnadmin

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If we are open to the possibilities, then life presents us with many daily opportunities to learn. But for meaningful change to happen as a result, learning is not enough on its own. It’s what we do with our learning – our follow-through – that can give it lasting meaning.

For years, I have supported sending educators on the Underground Railroad Tour, because of my passion for social justice and an understanding that the rescue of slaves is a key example of the power created when people join together in a united moral consciousness. I have seen others who experienced that power return from the tour changed in positive ways, and committed to following through by becoming people of social-justice action.

“Like those who went before me, I am changed by what I learned and experienced on the Underground Railroad tour.”

Regardless of age, race or gender, I have seen my fellow educators newly motivated to create exceptional lesson plans; interact with their students with renewed and genuine hearts; create opportunities for learning outside the classroom; take part in service-learning projects; unite with their colleagues in a newly invigorated sense of collaboration; develop leadership skills and become a voice of both advocacy and accountability; engage with parents more deeply; speak up against injustice with new strength and confidence; and celebrate pride in the history and contributions of African Americans.

This summer, intrigued by what I’d witnessed among my education colleagues time and again, and sponsored by the Black Voice Foundation, I finally joined the tour I’d urged so many others to take. It was a powerful experience that brought home to me the many sometimes contradictory emotions associated with being a descendant of slaves. When I was born in the 1950s, our nation was only about 90 years removed from its slave-holding past. That means that, almost incredibly, when I was born – free – there were still people alive who had been born into slavery in my country. For me, the fact that my life has overlapped the lives of former slaves raises all kinds of emotions, including a deep feeling of responsibility to be the kind of person my ancestors might have been, had they only been allowed the chance.

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[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=””][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text css_animation=””]Thousands of slaves, however, didn’t wait for someone to grant them that chance; they didn’t settle for dreaming of freedom as some distant, almost fantastic goal. Instead, they risked their lives and their children’s lives to gain it for themselves by taking to the Underground Railroad, the danger-filled path to the freedom of the northern states and Canada. Now that’s follow-through.

At one point in the tour, we had to climb a long, steep hill in the oppressive heat and humidity that blesses the Midwest each summer. Only halfway up, I was exhausted and having trouble breathing. Worse than that, I was feeling a sense of humiliation welling up inside as I considered quitting the climb. Just as I was about to accept my humiliation and give up, one of my fellow tourists stopped next to me and urged me on, reminding me that if people running for their lives for thousands of miles could make it up this hill, then I certainly should be able to. So, together we trudged forward and upward and, together, finally reached the top, overlooking the beautiful Ohio River. That simple experience reminded me of an equally simple but often overlooked lesson: Sometimes, we have to be willing to rely on others to help us follow through on our own commitments, our own journeys.

The life-lessons I learned – or in some cases relearned – on my Underground Railroad tour now must be put into action. I must follow through, and be willing to risk failure in an effort to better support all students’ academic achievement and stand up for what’s right for them. And I need to remember how important it is to ask for and accept the help of others if need be to accomplish my goals.

Like those who went before me, I am changed by what I learned and experienced on the Underground Railroad tour. But how I put that knowledge and experience to use in service to others – my follow-through – is what can give it lasting meaning.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=””][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_separator color=”grey” align=”align_center” style=”” border_width=”” el_width=””][vc_column_text]About the Contributor: Dr. Judy D. White is superintendent of Moreno Valley Unified School District. She also serves as president of California Association of African-American Superintendents and Administrators (CAAASA).

Photos: Steven James Collins

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