I sometimes struggle to clearly define exactly what I mean when I talk about The Adventure Gap. The book I wrote of the same title details several specific examples of African-American women and men who had overcome their fear and apprehension to cross the divide between where they were and where they most wanted to be, to venture anywhere their hearts desired. Today most of the barriers that prevent us from achieving our full potential are in our minds. We often talk ourselves out of doing things that frighten us to avoid the risks of failure, physical injury or even death. But not so long ago people of color in this country were physically limited by racially motivated violence perpetrated against them while peacefully demonstrating their opposition to an oppressive society.
This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the historic march of civil right activists from Selma, Alabama to the capital in Montgomery. As they attempted to cross the Edmond Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River on March 7, 1965, the demonstrators were confronted by heavily armed police officers. When they refused to withdraw members of the crowd were beaten with batons and subjected to tear gas. More than 17 were hospitalized as a result of the event known as Bloody Sunday.
Just moments before the altercation ensued photographer James “Spider” Martin captured a single image called Two Minute Warning. White police officers clad in helmets and riot gear stand in front of a group of black men in overcoats holding their ground peacefully in calm defiance. But most striking to me in this photograph is the distance between them. The negative space in the picture is a gap no more than 20 feet wide of grey concrete. However it represents a division of belief and purpose so profound that men with guns believe it is worth killing for and for which an unarmed assembly of men, women and children are prepared to die.
Martin Luther King Jr. often compared the struggle for civil rights in this country to climbing a high mountain. The long journey to the summit was often fraught with danger and many were badly injured, many were even killed. This moment on the Emond Pettus Bridge, this gap of 20 feet, was no less deadly or treacherous than any crevasse, a hail of bullets, batons, and tear gas like the murderous onslaught of ice, rock and snow of an avalanche. So when I see this image I draw the analogy as well to define the distance between where we are and where we most want to be as The Adventure Gap.
Today when we speak literally about climbing mountains the path of African-Americans’ forward progress is no longer blocked with angry white men with guns. The entrances to our national parks and public lands no longer have signs or legislation to bar admittance to people of color and we are now free to venture anywhere our hearts desire. And though the risks and consequences of failure are no less dire we can decide for ourselves whether to play it safe at home on the couch or travel into the natural world to experience things that are truly wonderful. Inspired by the courage and sacrifices of demonstrators 50 years ago it is my hope that all people will confront what ever opposition they face, their fears or apprehensions, doubt or uncertainty to cross the Adventure Gap.
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