Today we celebrated the birthday of a father, a friend, a preacher, a leader. We said happy birthday to Dr. Martin Luther King Junior and remembered the movement he started, the movement we continue today.
This morning I attended a beautiful tribute to the late Dr. King, surrounded by my Brooklyn community. A community of young & old, black & white, rich & poor, gay & straight. We sang songs of praise together, and heard commentary from political leaders including our New York Senators, Mayor De Blasio, and one of the co-founders of #BlackLivesMatter, Opal Tometi. The diverse crowd was a sight I can only imagine Dr. King would have loved to see.
Our current events, which are essentially the antithesis of what Dr. King stood and sat and spoke and died for, could not be ignored and were addressed in each individual’s remarks.
So instead of sharing my thoughts on the book I’m currently reading, this post is guided by themes I heard this morning from Opal, an emphatic female leader of the modern civil rights movement.
A call to action:
“In a day an age when our lives are threatened, we cannot be silent.”
“When we have so-called leaders threatening to rip apart families, we cannot be silent.”
“When we’re threatened with the normalization of intolerance, we cannot be silent.” “When women’s rights are being stripped away from us, we cannot be silent.”
By the end of these statements, the entire room was anything but silent, saying aloud in unison with Opal “we cannot be silent.” I felt a sense of solidarity and hope that I will not attempt to describe.
It’s interesting to observe when people use their voice, when the fear of disagreeing is overcome by a fire to fight back. Personally, I’ve always believed in equality amongst all people, but my voice grew more confident speaking out on feminist and racial subjects after an image culture class junior year of college. Still, I only used my voice passively – my fire needed a spark.
My personal spark was the direct threat to people I love from our president-elect. I knew we weren’t in a post-racist & post-sexist world, but I was naive enough to think we wouldn’t want our leader to be racist or sexist let alone both.
Everyone has their own moment of passion that ignites action. Everyone has their own unique voice. And everyone has their own network. We should take comfort in this and not be intimidated. No action is too small, no conversation is too short. What’s important is that we are active in sharing and fighting and letting our voices be heard. Let this time and this holiday be a reminder that Dr. King and his movement only won one round of the fight towards equality, rounds two and three are ours to settle and we can’t settle anything silently.
Rhetoric will become reality
“We need to raise a resounding cry at every instance of repression and regression. We must not rest until we build a multiracial democracy that embraces the fullness of our spirits and human experience”
We keep being told to wait and see what happens, but that’s like driving a car around with a check-engine light on. You know the engine is going to die eventually and you can either wait until it does or fix it before it interferes with daily life. Unfortunately our problem is much bigger than one car.
We are repeatedly hearing the same rhetoric on social justice issues from out nation’s leaders. This rhetoric WILL become reality. We will see the wage gap continue and possibly grow because Trump thinks “putting a wife to work is a very dangerous thing.” We will see African-Americans continue to be marginalized because Trump continues to group them together as “the blacks” – a small but significant modifier. We will continue to grow up with implicit bias towards Muslims as we witness a Muslim registry put in place.
I’m not okay with waiting around to see if any of this rhetoric becomes a reality. Actually, I’m sure if we sit idly it will become reality. Billy Bush was fired for his offensive words, but Trump now holds the nation’s highest office. It’s unclear why we’re accepting of this. Demand our leaders be held to the same if not a higher standard. Change the conversation, change the outcome.
“Trayvon reminded me of my then 14 year old brother.”
Opal, referring to the untimely and unjust death of Trayvon Martin in 2012, sent chills down my spine. I will never feel nor claim to feel the weight of the black experience in America. However, hearing this sentiment said aloud in the first person, made me literally shiver. I have read numerous accounts of victims of police brutality, but until today when I heard it from a specific individual standing in front of me, I hadn’t felt their pain. We have to remember to feel from differing perspectives.
It reminds me of in The Dead Poets Society when Robin Williams stands on a desk. If you’ve never done this, try it. A room looks totally different depending on where you stand, just as the world looks different for each individual. I won’t be able to personally relate a lot instances of injustice, but I share a human emotional experience. Change the perspective, make things personal. Ask what if I were his big sister, ask what if that was my son, ask what if that were my best friend who was shot. Ask what if that were my mom, ask what if that were my niece, ask what if that was my neighbor who was denied service because of their skin color. These selfish questions elicit emotions and emotions are universal. The ability to recognize this and empathize with those around us goes a long way in helping and healing.
Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back
“We have to be weary of what he makes seem normal, because in this country we went from enslavement, to Jim Crow, to mass incarceration, the morphing of the systems that still disenfranchise and destabilize communities even if at the time they may seem normal.”
Dr. King saw through the normalized repression of his time and identified the problems, organized, and activated. It’s our turn.
It’s not normal for African-Americans to be five times more likely to be incarcerated than white men. It’s not normal for unarmed African-Americans to be gunned down in the streets. It’s not normal for impoverished children to receive inferior education. Yet all of these things are normal in America right now.
Segregation was normal. Slavery was normal. We look back and think – how could people have overlooked the injustice? Yet, we commit the same crimes through the above and many more examples of systemic racism. Opal started the #BlackLivesMatter movement when she saw others consider a heinous act normal. Instances of racism and suppression are happening in front of us every day. We are responsible for identifying them. Only when we acknowledge a problem can we work to solve it.
Love & Protect
“We have the ability to love and protect each other. I believe that we can come together across race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ability, immigration status, religious affiliations, any identity, and begin to create communities that understand our complexities and define our power and embrace it.”
This final quote speaks for itself. It IS possible to live and thrive together. Actually, it’s easier to thrive when we work together. If we use our voices, reject the rhetoric, challenge our perspectives, acknowledge issues, and protect each other, our America will move towards greatness and an unbelievable pace. The American dream will once again feel attainable. The dream of Dr. King will come to fruition, our nation will finally live out the true meaning of its creed.
After reading this over, I realized I didn’t share many tangible actions. Will update with organizations and movements soon.
*small note, each blog post is a song title. sometimes just because the title fits, sometimes because the song is relevant. either way listen to more tunes.*
Lift Every Voice – often referred to as the “Black American National Anthem”