After being housebound, unable to travel for 16 months, I was eager to get out on the road. The day after school let out, three generations of my family organized ourselves in a caravan and headed out for a self-curated Civil Rights tour. We planned a route from Chicago to Alabama and back with stops that included the new National Museum of African American Music in Nashville, the 16th Street Baptist Church and Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham, the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial and Legacy Museum in Montgomery, the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, and the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville. Of course, we ate good food, listened to good music, and checked out some caves as well, but the goal was for all of us—my senior citizen parents, my sister, my husband, my college-aged niece and nephew, and my teenage daughter—to learn about Black history by visiting the places where the history was made.
In preparation for the trip, I watched a lot of documentaries — documentaries about the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, the 1961 freedom rides, the 1963 Birmingham campaign, the 1965 Selma march. This history wasn’t new to me, but there were ways that it looked different in this historic moment. First, the events happened over a decade. We tend to jumble these events as if they happened over weeks or months, when in reality, progress was made over years. The other thing that stands out is the power of racial segregation. When you look at the violent resistance to integration on buses and lunch counters, it seems surreal by today’s standards. Yet today’s occupational segregation is as ubiquitous as social segregation was then. Occupational segregation is defined as a group’s overrepresentation or underrepresentation in certain jobs or fields of work. In workforce development, it ungirds most of our programs, and it’s upheld by our policies and practices. It’s why employers overlook talent and why there continues to be a racial wealth gap. Dismantling occupational segregation is crucial to implementing our vision for racial equity and inclusion. It’s the next stop on the civil rights trail.