Driving his white Toyota Prius down hot U.S. highways, Tesfa Wondemagegnehu is, in fact, driven.

In the midst of a 60-day solo journey to over 40 cities, his ultimate aim is to listen and learn what repair looks like in Black communities across the country — a goal more pressing than a summer spent comfortably at his Northfield home.

"Growing up in Memphis, I've seen people in my family and community who have experienced extreme hardships," said Wondemagegnehu, an assistant professor of music at St. Olaf College.

"It's necessary for me to recognize my situational privilege and attempt to help any way I can. I needed to know what it would look like for me to re-immerse myself in Black communities across the country; I want to know what my people, my siblings, my kinfolk are experiencing in American cities and how I can be of even more direct help."

Few would say Wondemagegnehu was previously inactive.

Wondemagegnehu teaches voice plus a music and social justice class. He conducts St. Olaf's Viking Chorus and Chapel Choir. And he co-founded the Justice Choir movement with Abbie Betinis and Ahmed Anzaldúa in 2017 and coedited the Justice Choir Songbook.

He's raised awareness about Black musicians and composers, and raised funds through his nonprofit Black Folk BBQ to benefit the Racial Justice Network and National Civil Rights Museum; he likes to say he's "smokin' for a cause."

But at a June 2020 fundraiser, he was challenged to go beyond barbecue.

"Some activist friends told me, 'It's cool you're doing this, but you need to be more involved,' " said Wondemagegnehu.

He took the challenge to heart, spending nearly 12 months conceiving of and planning the To Repair Project, which requires him to step out of his comfort zone and follow in the footsteps of Black triumph, trauma and history.

Starting in Minneapolis, moving on to Milwaukee, advancing to Kenosha, Chicago, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Louisville, Philadelphia and more, Wondemagegnehu departed June 1 with backing from St. Olaf College and a commission from the University of Michigan Men's Glee Club, for which the published composer will produce a choral work based on his summer experiences.

"This music will always be available to choirs free of charge," said Wondemagegnehu.

A premier of the work is scheduled for April 9, 2022, in Michigan, followed by a May 7, 2022, performance at St. Olaf, with the Michigan Glee Club, conducted by Mark Stover, Wondemagegnehu's predecessor at St. Olaf, as well as the Viking Chorus and tenor/bass sections of the St. Olaf Choir.

While Wondemagegnehu prearranged many interviews and meetings for his two-month trip, he purposely left time for serendipitous connections.

Equipped with an array of recording technology, plus unique T-shirts for daily wear ("You don't have to be Black to support Black people," reads one, while another proclaims, "Unapologetically Black"), Wondemagegnehu often parks his Prius at important sites — for instance, near Breonna Taylor's Louisville apartment — and hangs out to talk with neighbors and passersby.

"The biggest part of this trip has been learning and listening," said Wondemagegnehu. "I'm going up to strangers and saying, 'Hey, can I ask you a few questions?' and I'm getting some good results.

"Being in community with people who look like me in cities across the country has already been incredibly rewarding. I feel lucky I get to do this."

And Wondemagegnehu has aspirations. He envisions other music ensembles taking small chunks of his 2021 tour in the future.

"Imagine a choir flying to one of these cities and immersing themselves in the history while also financially supporting the efforts of these Black organizations and stakeholders," said Wondemagegnehu, who spent two memorable days as a guest at Berry Gordy's Motown Mansion in Detroit.

"The hope is this is not just a one-off experience; we are trying to seed future partnerships."

Above all, Wondemagegnehu strives to shine a spotlight on people and organizations that have been laboring to help Black communities all along. In Chicago, Wondemagegnehu was humbled to meet Dr. Iva Carruthers, the general secretary of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference and a member of the National African-American Reparations Committee.

In Louisville, he visited the president of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, the Rev. Dr. Alton B. Pollard III.

When Wondemagegnehu kissed his supportive wife, Michelle Bendett, and their 3-year-old daughter, Aïda, goodbye on June 1 — the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre — he knew time spent apart from them was a sacrifice.

"Michelle was supportive from Day 1," said Wondemagegnehu. "She is the fiercest advocate for our goal to lift communities and propel people forward and upward."

Citing Matthew 6:1-4 and his intent to grow the To Repair Project as a resource, Wondemagegnehu insists his time collecting oral histories and connecting is about something much bigger than himself.

Said Wondemagegnehu, "We need to amplify and uplift the people and organizations that have been doing this work for decades."

Northfield-based freelance writer Jane Turpin Moore recently wrote for Inspired about University of Minnesota product design students experimenting with reusable soap. and clay.