My host family was kind enough to give me my own room. It’s one of their kids’ rooms –decorated as you would expect with school ribbons and trophies. It reminds me of my childhood in the early 2000s when schools still played Bill Nye and I read Junie B. Jones.
I went for a jog that morning; the air was thick with the steam rising off the Potomac, and I plunged into one of the trails. The hills were nothing like the flat, predictable roads of Waco, and my body was in no way prepared for the steep inclines. My feet have been aching all day.
Later, I found myself at the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture – my host works for the Smithsonian and provided me with a ticket.
Entering the museum was like taking to the trails for morning jogs. Descending a long, winding flight of stairs, you arrive at an elevator that takes you even deeper underground. You plunge into the earth and into the beginnings of African American life in the Americas during the 1400s. Artifacts from those dangerous years were cased in glass while speeches from civil rights activists reverberated in the background of the museum. You observe the original pain and torment of the slaves, but as you climb up through the museum, you are simultaneously climbing through time – each floor representing a different era of civil rights.
What was once the pain of being ripped from their homes, the pain of the African Americans becomes the struggle to climb out of their predispositions. Their feet aching, boy did they keep climbing.
When you finally reach modern day America, videos of Obama’s inauguration play and cut to segments showing the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement. Where you want to be relieved, you realize the struggle is not over. People are still suffering. They still have to climb.
Me — I walked out of that museum, up the winding staircase and back into Washington. My feet were blistered from the new boots my mother bought me before the trip, but I choose to keep it to myself. I realize I can avoid aching feet whenever I want. I don’t have to climb out.