The darkness was confusing. When the blindfolds were tied on, the youth giggled, unaware of how much life can change in a few moments. They were still safe in a meeting room at Tuskegee [Ala.] University where 30 13- to 21-year-olds were among nearly 250 participants in an ELCA-sponsored gathering for Africans and African Americans.
But they were starting a time-travel journey — re-enacting the "middle passage" route that slave ships took across the Atlantic from West Africa to America. They were uprooted from their comfortable chairs, "stolen from their homes." Hands pushed, pulled and threw them about. Captors threw the youngsters on top of each other and shoved them impossibly close together. Angry voices shouted gibberish at them, and they did what they could to obey.
No one giggled. In fact, it was all they could do to stop their tears. When the blindfolds were removed, the youth scarcely let themselves breathe sighs of relief.
"Knowing that it's only five or six minutes for you, you wonder how our people went through 300 years of the struggle," said Chicagoan Rebecca Lawrence, president of the ELCA Lutheran Youth Organization.
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