We all like to credit ourselves with having beautiful imaginations. We like to think of the endless possibilities of our futures, a lot of times without thinking of the painful past. We don’t always like to believe that our minds can harbor such detailed images of darkness. Like most crucial points in history, slavery is not something that can just be memorized into understanding. It is something that has to be experienced. 

My time at The River Center for Humanities cannot be compared to anything I’ve ever seen, felt or done before. Normally, when people tell you that something is “the most life-changing experience of their life”, they’re either exaggerating or they’re trying to sell you something. Although this is a personal favorite tactic during Girl Scout cookie season, where girls in uniform fight to the death (of their teenage metabolisms) to sell as many boxes as possible, the only thing I am trying to sell here is knowledge.

Being called the ‘N-word’ has always held a powerful hold over me. But to have that word assault the back of my head repeatedly as I was forced to walk to captivity was overwhelming, body and soul. I experienced all my senses shutting down as I was forced to look into the eyes of the man I picked to kill in order to retain my spot as a “good slave”. I tried to distance myself, focusing on the cotton candy blue of the sky and wondering what we’d have for lunch later in the day. All while remembering that my ancestors did not have the luxury of knowing they were safe or knowing when food was coming or even being treated as human beings.

I didn’t make it to the inside if the ‘slave ship’. Part of growing as a person is knowing your limits. And looking into the abyss of the black doorway sent an indescribable feeling into the pit of my stomach. All my childhood fears of the darkness and monsters hiding behind doorways resurfaced. Except the monsters my ancestors had to encounter weren’t large, deformed animals with fangs. They were people. With two eyes and two hands.

To think and say that slavery has no place in the minds of modern day people is to deny a history that still directly effects its descendants. When the experience was over, I was grateful for the arms that wrapped around my back and pulled me into warm embraces. I was grateful for the sky and the grass and maybe even the mosquitoes, for a second. But I was most grateful for the people I have grown with and truly begun to love. Their spirit and their strength gives me strength. Afriye, the director of The River Center for Humanities says that our problems in the world stem from the fact we have not “learned to love each other as human beings”. I would agree. But I know that there is hope here. Within all of us. 

Logan Jones Merrill OU ’13, The Baldwin School ‘14