RubyWoo Pilgrimage photo Joy Bailey
By Shonnie Scott —
Imagine a four-day road trip and a diverse group of thirty-four evangelical leaders from eighteen states—women who have the ear of ten million social media followers. Picture a bus of female authors, activists, and pastors immersing themselves in the historical struggle for women’s rights. This was the #RubyWooPiligrimage!
A pilgrimage is a journey of exalted moral and spiritual experience. On the opening night of RubyWoo, we got acquainted with our fellow pilgrims and committed ourselves to an appropriately weighty “Covenant of Presence.” We opened our swag bags and eagerly awaited the unveiling of an itinerary and schedule.
We never got one.
We would make our pilgrimage leg by leg—knowing only what the next few hours held. It was a small taste of the discomfort our trailblazing foremothers endured in their fight for equal rights. As we readied for sleep that first night, we tried on our #RubyWoo t-shirts, which read: “We Are Our Foremothers’ Wildest Dream.”
Two thirds of the group were women of color or non-US women, while the remaining third were US-born, white women (including myself). I was familiar with intersectionality (the theory that oppressive systems are interconnected and thus, cannot be examined or dismantled separately) prior to #RubyWoo, but the pilgrimage plunged me into the complexity and pain of my fellow pilgrims’ lived experience of intersectional oppression.
We absorbed exhibits and artifacts at the Wesleyan Chapel/Women’s Rights National Park, The Tenement Museum, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park Visitor Center, and other historical places. At each stop, pilgrims heard the stories of their ancestors—stories that echo the injustice and trauma women and especially women of color experience today.
It was humbling and harrowing to journey alongside these brave sisters as a white woman, to listen to their lived and inherited trauma. I was reminded that my own experiences of gender-injustice pale both in comparison to those of my foremothers and to those of the women of color I traveled with.
How much I have been spared—simply and only because of my skin color and birthplace—came into even sharper relief when we heard from undocumented women and pilgrimage guests such as civil rights activist, Rev. Dr. Ruby Sales. As we wrestled with the issue of complicity, “Mama Ruby” (as some pilgrims affectionately called Rev. Dr. Sales) told us that we are all complicit. However, once we are aware of our complicity, we must take action.
Mama Ruby challenged us in many ways:
“Racism is a malformation that destroys our humanity; therefore fighting racism is
something we do for ourselves. Justice work is self-care.”
“Courage is not being fearless; it’s acting when we are really afraid.”
“Truth is the pathway to freedom.”
Mama Ruby inspired us to keep walking the path toward justice that she and other foremothers paved before us.
The museum visits—
Near the end of our pilgrimage, we visited the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. I was still reflecting on Dr. Sale’s remarks on complicity when I visited perhaps the most moving part of the whole museum—a small, shrine-like room containing the casket of Emmitt Till, a 14 year-old boy brutally maimed and murdered by white supremacists in 1955.
His mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, insisted on an open casket funeral to “let the people see what I have seen,” forcing the American public to reckon with the barbarousness of American racism. On a wall overlooking the casket were the words of a grieving mother: “Two months ago I had a nice apartment in Chicago. I had a good job. I had a son. When something happened to the Negroes in the South I said, ‘That’s their business, not mine.’ Now I know how wrong I was.”
It struck me like a lightning bolt. If we falsely believe we can escape the shadow of injustice in our world, we are complicit. The #RubyWooPilgrimage prompted this kind of moral and spiritual shake-up. And that’s what moves us to action.
The Hill Visit—
Our final day, we paid a visit to federal legislators on both sides of the aisle to advocate for women. Some pilgrims were seasoned lobbyists, while others were making their first visit ever to their legislators. We were briefed and trained on our pilgrimage platforms: immigration policy, voting rights, and prison reform, and how each issue impacts women specifically. A rousing pep-talk from the inimitable Congresswoman Maxine Waters bolstered us for our visits.
I had gratifying meetings with my legislator’s staff members, to whom I advocated for policy that cares for women (and their children). I was also honored with a brief surprise visit by my state senator.
As a pastor, I was taught political activity is divisive and distracting, and to always maintain an appearance of neutrality. My #RubyWoo discovery: faith and politics do mix—especially for faith leaders! Lisa Sharon Harper reminded us that God is not only transforming individuals, but whole systems and structures. Policy returns full circle to bear on each of God’s beloved children. So, as God redeems God’s image- bearers and their creation-given vocation of dominion (to serve, protect, and cultivate the wellness of creation), those image-bearers will in turn advocate for just systems and structures through just policy.
“We are our foremothers’ wildest dream”—wearing that audacious t-shirt and fiery red lipstick didn’t feel like “me” at the beginning of the journey, but I grew into it by the end. Such is the inescapable transformation and empowerment of the #RubyWoo pilgrimage.
The #RubyWoo pilgrimage is an unparalleled new opportunity for a broadly diverse group of evangelical women thought leaders to build kinship, learn about and experience gender injustice—past and present—through one another’s eyes, and grow as advocates. Pilgrims come away forever bound as “#RubyWoo sisters” – a tour-de-force who’ve locked arms to make our foremothers’ wildest dream reality for all women.