All over the country people are hoping for change. Change in what neighbours can do together maybe, or improved services to the community. Or perhaps changes in the law, or for a safer, healthier, more equal world.
Recently, the pandemic, Black Lives Matter movement and the climate crisis have made us think even more about what kind of society we want to live in.
When we feel unsure, stories of ordinary people who have managed to make change can inspire and galvanise us to act. We know this because for five years we’ve taken our exhibition to fifteen places telling such stories from all around the UK and from the US civil rights movement. Little known, powerful stories. And people have told us again and again how this has inspired them.
“Wonderfully interesting, moving and inspiring, an exhibition that deserves very high coverage. Thank you.”
“The exhibition’s stories are a salutary reminder of what can be done and of how easily accepted injustice has been and still is and how it has to be challenged.”
We look to a world in which everyone feels responsible for social justice and is active in promoting and ensuring it. With 500 members and 50 volunteers, we run exhibitions, training and events telling little known stories of people involved in human rights movements. We want people to be more aware of people who take a stand for freedom, equality, human rights and economic justice.
We may have different cultures and experiences but we have hopes, dreams and needs in common. We can be stronger by sharing our histories of people’s actions for a better world. Seeing how and why change has been made by ‘people like us’ can ignite the flame of belief that change is again possible.
The arts can tell stories and be an important tool for change. They break down barriers and tap into our creativity, inspiring and informing us to generate action for a better world.
We connect the seldom told histories of ‘everyday’ people in the past, their expression through the arts and action for justice now. This helps people to see how success can be achieved.
Action for change is always a creative process.
Our touring civil rights exhibition
Seven years ago, many of you generously supported our crowdfunding campaign to create our travelling multi-arts, interactive exhibition. It tells little known stories of journeys to justice by individuals in the USA and the UK, along with stories local to each place the exhibition visits. Since its launch in 2015, the exhibition has been seen by over 180,000 people in 15 places. Visitors develop an understanding of how vision, persistence, courage, tactics and leadership make change happen.
It is a dynamic mix of photographs, music, poetry, art, artefacts, installations and audio-visual and interactive features. Using ‘bus stops’ and placards we focus on the stories of some of the less well-known women, men and children involved in the movement. Without these people of various ages and ethnicities, the movement could not have happened.
U.S. Deputy Marshals escort 6-year-old Ruby Bridges from William Frantz Elementary School, New Orleans 1960 ©AP/Shutterstock.com
Firefighters turn their hoses full force on civil rights demonstrators, July 15, 1963, Birmingham, Alabama ©AP/Shutterstock.com
- Six-year-old Ruby Bridges and her teacher Barbara Henry, who defied school segregation in New Orleans
- Bayard Rustin, Dr Martin Luther King’s brilliant organiser, proudly gay and pacifist
- Jean Stallings, anti-poverty campaigner
- Elmore and Peggy Nickleberry, involved in the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike for economic and racial justice
- Marcia Saunders, a student who joined the campaign to register Black voters in Tennessee
- Janice Wesley who was part of the Birmingham Children’s Crusade in Alabama.
The National Welfare Rights Organization marching to end hunger, 1968. Jack Rottier photograph collection.
Visitors can sit at a re-created a lunch counter to watch the story of the Greensboro Woolworths sit-ins. They can stand at the stage where Martin Luther King and others spoke on 28th August 1963 and hear from people in the crowd. They can listen to universal freedom songs from a juke box and tie their comments to metal bars like those of the police vans that took child protesters to jail. Throughout the exhibition there is poetry and art by UK young people responding to these stories.
© Dr. Ernest C. Withers, Sr. courtesy of the WITHERS FAMILY TRUST Memphis sanitation workers, 1968
“I think the aim of JtoJ is to remind us of this history to show us where we have come from and the power of a single person's actions to effect change. There is still work to be done and I think this exhibition inspires each person to action.”
Using an interactive map of the UK, we show how many different struggles for freedom have happened here over hundreds of years. We highlight examples of how the US civil rights movement and UK history connect, such as:
- the 1963 Bristol bus boycott
- Malcolm X’s visits to the UK
- the 1965 Tamla Motown Tour
- a window ‘from the people of Wales’ for the bombed-out 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama
- Asquith Xavier's successful challenge to British Rail’s ‘colour bar’ in 1966.
As the exhibition travelled around the country we found, collected and shared local stories of people who took action for justice and human rights. These stories – from the North East, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, the West and East Midlands, South Western England and London – open our eyes to rich hidden histories.
“It makes me feel proud that young people my age, from my ethnicity are being active and makes me want to be active too.”
“Since I joined JtoJ I have the confidence to make a change and speak out. I learned a lot about who changed history.”
The impact of Journey to Justice
Journey to Justice has already made a huge impact. 80% of visitors to the exhibition say being involved with us has made them more active in addressing social justice issues. We don’t define what we mean by ‘action’ but examples given include:
- joining work-based equal opportunities teams
- becoming involved with refugee support groups
- making a film to challenge racism and hate crime in their community
- writing poetry and creating exhibitions, songs, digital games and art installations to celebrate local human rights activists
- young people developing a plan of action against child poverty.
“Rekindled my desire to continue the fight for equality and justice for all. Sometimes life makes us complacent and ‘too busy’ to realize there are still many battles to be fought.”
“Journey to Justice is making me understand more about life and society. I can get things off my chest. I can help younger people understand better about gangs.”
We want to widen our impact and this is how!
To inspire and galvanise more people than our physical exhibition can reach, we plan to create an online version which can be accessed by a much wider audience. It will be freely available to all and designed for individuals, schools, youth and community organisations, activist groups and the general public. It will feature stories from the physical exhibition and resources to support educators and trainers. There will be signposting for those who want to get involved in action for change. We will use our extensive network of individuals and organisations to reach audiences in education, youth and community, arts, history, anti-racist, human rights and faith groups nationally and internationally. With your support we can reach thousands of people!
“I intend to carry on the JtoJ legacy wherever I go. It has inspired me to pursue a career in the charity sector if possible or, at the very least, dedicate my spare time outside of work to the social justice cause.”
"We learnt that we all have a voice. It's just what we do with it that can make a difference."
How your money will make a difference
To ensure our online exhibition is as engaging and effective as the physical one, we will work with Surface Impression, a design agency who can bring all aspects of the exhibition to life online, including music, poetry and art. All money raised will go towards the costs of creating and promoting the exhibition.
Your contribution could galvanise thousands of people to take the first steps towards making the change they want to see, for a fairer society. Maybe you could be one of those thousands too?