Civil Rights Journey Makes Life-Changing Impact on East Ohio Teen

By Brett Hetherington*

A sojourn is known as the part of a trip that involves a short or temporary stay. Each year we as a nation set aside the month of February to celebrate Black History – a sojourn on our journey throughout the year, if you will. Though this is a short stay, it leaves an impact, and last year one young man from the East Ohio Conference took a sojourn of his own that left an indelible mark on his life.

John Rhodes is a junior in a Mahoning Valley District high school. As a part of the Sojourn to the Past organization he and several others took a short trip in July of 2021 which involved stops at several places along what has come to be known as the Civil Rights Trail. On this trip Rhodes and his group not only saw remnants of the struggles for justice and equality but were able to converse with several individuals who were directly involved in events that we read about in history books today.

“It was incredibly powerful to hear from these people and their experiences, it was so impactful and eye-opening for me,” he shared. “It was incredibly impactful to meet people who were there.”

Sojourn to the Past, launched in 1999 in the San Francisco area, conducts anti-racism work and incorporates lessons from the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s to promote greater tolerance, compassion, community-mindedness, and critical-thinking abilities in those who take part. The Mahoning Valley Sojourn to the Past commits to training teens in the ways of social and racial justice, nonviolence, civic responsibility, hope, compassion, and tolerance.

Throughout the trip Rhodes experienced a deepening understanding of what it was to like for those on the front line of the Civil Rights Movement. “It was an incredibly powerful moment for me, to see the footage, to be there where it happened. It was so crazy to see that this was happening in the United States at a time when my dad was just born.”

Being able to encounter living history left an impact on Rhodes. He returned from the trip more committed to a life of anti-racism, non-violence, and being a light in his community.

“It’s changed how I interact with people, and how I interact with my community,” he shared. “It’s such a tremendous opportunity, and it certainly could use some more attention.”

Visit to learn how the East Ohio Conference and The United Methodist Church are standing against racism.

To learn more about Sojourn to the Past visit

To learn more about the Mahoning Valley Sojourn to the Past visit

To learn more about the Civil Rights Trail visit

The Conference Communications team would like to share other stories that highlight ways that each of us is answering the call of Bishop Tracy S. Malone to reach out to our communities in creative ways. Please e-mail your ministry story to EOC Director of Communications Rick Wolcott at

* Brett Hetherington is the Communications specialist for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.