Late last spring, I stood at the base of the Edmund Pettus Bridge with a group of about 20 church folks. The asphalt and metal span curved upward ahead of us, obscuring the view of the other side. We were about to walk across, warmed by brilliant sunshine and inspired by our dayslong pilgrimage to some of the most significant civil rights landmarks in Georgia and Alabama.

The bridge, of course, was the site of Bloody Sunday — a vicious, racist attack on 600 peaceful civil rights marchers on March 7, 1965. Agents of the state made up the mob that beat them — armed troopers and deputy sheriffs backed by white supremacy.

In photos and on film, it’s not completely clear that you can’t see what’s on the bridge’s far side until you reach its peak. But in person, the bend blocks your view until what’s ahead is inevitable.

As we crossed the narrow walkway, the Alabama River below us, history felt proximate, more like memory. Within my lifetime, a movement rooted in the essentials of human dignity had marched into the face of terrorist hate. The structure at that march’s center stands still as a memorial and monument to a Ku Klux Klan leader.

Faithful people talk a lot these days about building bridges —working to close divisions through conversation and collaboration — but the Edmund Pettus Bridge reminds us that not all divides can be solved with compromise.

Some modern-day bridge builders are committed to the holy work of healing, fully recognizing that reparative justice is required first. But the anguished sincerity of others can feel more like performative reconciliation, perhaps focused on easing their discomfort more than on resolving conflict.

Bridge building requires effort from both sides. What can be lost in earnest eagerness to move past differences is the work and sacrifice of all the people whose tenuous status in this nation has already required that they concede essential parts of themselves to survive. Members of marginalized communities have had to be builders, constructing connections on the pillars and pilings of their ancestors’ bodies in the process.

That can get washed out in the language of “healing what separates us.”

If the request is for further sacrifice, whose dignity stands to be compromised? How faithfully Christian is it to crush someone’s soul so that the dialogue can be “fruitful” and “productive”?

As a quote often attributed to James Baldwin explains, some things must be nonnegotiable: "We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist."

The violence on the Edmund Pettus Bridge was not about finding common ground. That would have required those powered by white supremacy to lay down their arms and for the marchers to be empowered.

Beyond the heroes of great liberation movements, there is the work of the day to day. For all the people who have ever modulated their voices, moderated their tone, changed their hairstyles or otherwise essentially altered who they were, that is the unacknowledged work of staying safe, employable and marginally accepted. How much more than self-abnegation is required?

In “I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness,” Austin Channing Brown writes about her name.

“We knew that anyone who saw it before meeting you would assume you are a white man,” her mother explained the choice. “One day you will have to apply for jobs. We just wanted to make sure you could make it to the interview.”

Later, Brown shares her experience with a series of demeaning microaggressions only to face the suggestion that she spend more time with the offender so she “could see his heart.”

“Oftentimes the responsibility to extend compassion falls on me,” she writes.

The transformative, liberative work of collaboration and community wouldn’t be possible without compromise. But that requires more than shallow demands for a middle ground.

Among her prayers in “Black Liturgies,” Cole Arthur Riley writes:

Thank you for being a God who enters the suffering of the world — who doesn’t run from those in pain but rushes to the site of blood, of tears. Release us from empty cravings of unity that come at no cost to the oppressor, and guide us toward a solidarity that demands something of us. Let us learn to risk ourselves on behalf of the vulnerable, believing that when one of us is harmed, we all are. Help us to remember that justice and liberation are not a scarcity, and that our survival and dignity are wrapped up in one another. And God, keep us from those who will demonize the fight in us. Who would prefer us complacent and far from one another. Secure in us the courage to stand, knowing together we will restore what the world has tried to suffocate in us. Amen.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led marchers on their second attempt to cross the Pettus Bridge, but he turned back when the group was confronted again. They completed the 54-mile journey from Selma to Montgomery on the third try, under federal protection.

The marchers were never the ones holding up progress. Far more than building a metaphorical bridge, they were actively building beloved community. That reality, their reality, our nation’s reality replays like the music from a scratched vinyl record, skipping crucial parts and repeating others.

Even when well intentioned, the talk of bridge building too often misrepresents or fails to acknowledge those who have long been doing the work as well as those who have actively opposed it.

If that work truly matters more than a sense of personal ease, then on whom, to whom and for whom are we building? Who has already done their part? And who is yet to do the work required of them?