July 18, 2020.
This morning I woke up at 11:52AM, said a short prayer to God and the universe, and rolled over.
The news reported the loss of both Cordy Tindell Vivian and Congressman John Lewis.
Two angels look down on us now; the torch passed on.
There are no words to explain the positive impact that the two civil rights leaders had on America and the world. The biography on Lewis’ website says, “As a young boy, he was inspired by the activism surrounding the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., which he heard on radio broadcasts. In those pivotal moments, he made a decision to become a part of the Civil Rights Movement.”
His entire life was dedicated to “a fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights.”
The same could be said for C.T. Vivian, who President Barack Obama named a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013. President Obama described Vivian as a “distinguished minister, author, and organizer, founder of numerous civil rights organizations, and a friend to Martin Luther King, Jr.” Further research lead me to discover that Vivian started an educational program called Vision, later sending 702 Alabama students to college on scholarships.
Who are we, if we don’t stand on the shoulders of giants? Or, as Jay-Z rapped, “Rosa Parks sat so Martin Luther King could walk. Martin Luther King walked so Barack Obama could run. Barack Obama ran so all the children could fly.”
“So, I’m gonna spread my wings, you can meet me in the sky.”
This morning I rolled over to a black and white mugshot of John Lewis in Jackson, Mississippi in 1961. He had a slight smile on his face, short hair, and piercing black eyes. He was arrested for using a
“whites only” restroom.
On July 19, 2015, Lewis tweeted the photo and said, “Even though I was arrested, I smiled because I was on the right side of history. Find a way to get in the way #goodtrouble.”
I looked at the photo of John Lewis and did the math. He was twenty-one years old in this picture. At 23 years old, he gave a speech at the March on Washington.
My little brother is 23 years old. Think of who you were when you were 23.
This week in counseling, I asked my therapist how civil rights leaders dealt with their trauma. Did they have therapy, mentors, or a safe place to release their anguish?
I would like to know how Coretta Scott King slept at night after their house was bombed. How about Angela Davis when she spent her time in solitary confinement after wrongful conviction? And how does Assata Shakur feel as she lives her daily life in Cuba?
So often, we read about the peaceful advocacy of Martin Luther King Jr., but history books fail to discuss that King did not die of old age, but a gunshot wound.
What is to be said to those who give their lives to basic human rights? What is to be said to those who plant seeds only to see a small glimpse of the fruit, if lucky? They devote their entire lives to the cause.
How many walked so we could fly? Homer Plessy was 30 years old when he made change in New Orleans, but he never got to see Brown v. Board of Education. However, my grandmother taught in segregated and then integrated North Carolina schools. My father participated in boycotts during the 60s and attended North Carolina Central University. At NCCU, he befriended a person that would become a politician, who would back me 50 years later in a Congressional letter from 29 members of Congress, demanding answers from my former government employer.
You realize that we are all interconnected, intertwined in history that lives deep within us.
In that same way, Septima Poinsette Clark paved the way for my maternal and paternal grandmothers to become teachers. In that same way, Jo Ann Robinson’s organization and advocacy established a foundation for 15-year-old Claudette Colvins, who then inspired Rosa Parks.
However, if Congressman John Lewis was beaten, why is his son’s generation spit on, and my generation is harassed?
The trauma continues.
One would say that we have come a long way, but what about Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Carol Denise McNair? We watch this same message repeated in 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina.
The foundation of Jim Crow gave way to Bull Connor and then later Donald Trump.
While we must have hope and continue to push forward, what is it like to plant seeds and not reap the benefit of your labor?
I’ve never considered myself an activist until a month ago and discovered that the power of the pen combined with technology is quite interesting. I found you can shake tables and knock down walls from your living room table.
I’m a twenty-something millennial, a generation known for student loan debt and impatience.
You can read my story and sit in disgust, if you’d like. You can feel sorry for me; you can cry. You can also demand accountability so that this never happens to another soul, but as a millennial, I am often told that I need to keep quiet, slow down, and be patient.
I’m tired of being patient.
Not one thing that we’ve been asking for- basic human rights, an end to police brutality, equal rights, Breonna Taylor’s murderers arrested, fair access to healthcare and education, is out of America’s reach to guarantee.
I often think of 24-year-old James Baldwin, who moved to Paris with $40 and was met with peace, friendship, and internal struggle, but found his voice and power in cafes and an international country.
And I often wonder if that decision is one to partake in.
America, you are taking too long.
2020 is America’s final reckoning with race. 2020 is the final wake up call for America; it is a scathing reminder of America’s true history, intertwined in systemic inequality, laws, policy, culture, our streets, and bodies.
I finally understand why Mamie Till Bradley left her son’s casket open.
It’s hard to admit the truth until it is presented in a way that makes your heart stop.
My father was seven years old when Emmitt Till was murdered. My mother was two years old when Ruby Bridges was escorted to school. This history that we see in black and white photographs was not that long ago.
I ask you, if we are supposed to eat three times a day, but only eat twice; is that progress?
This is 2020.
America, you are taking too long.
“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year; it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” – John Lewis
“Leadership is found in the action to defeat that which defeat you. You are made by the struggles you choose.” – C.T. Vivian