Today marks the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. I don’t use quotation marks on purpose. Quotations other, makes the act seem debatable. And the actions, the treatment of American citizens remain anything but important.
Time posted the President’s speech transcript and it was a speech that equally comforted and confronted citizens. Discussed the past in confrontation to what is happening now in regards to voting and civil rights. President Obama still holds hope for the future, of what Americans can accomplish when equality is guaranteed. There is something very comforting in the soothing yet passionate tone of what he sees:
That’s what America is. Not stock photos or airbrushed history or feeble attempts to define some of us as more American as others. We respect the past, but we don’t pine for it. We don’t fear the future; we grab for it. America is not some fragile thing; we are large, in the words of Whitman, containing multitudes. We are boisterous and diverse and full of energy, perpetually young in spirit. That’s why someone like John Lewis at the ripe age of 25 could lead a mighty march. (emphasis mine.)
John Lewis became a leader of not just the civil rights movement, but the people of Georgia by becoming a Georgia Representative. As a man, he looks toward the future and he makes it better for those of us living the South and looking towards the future. Lewis isn’t just the president’s hero. As a leader of SNCC, the 25-year-old man made history by not letting anyone, not even a governor, justify the abuse of power.
As a white person, I hold tremendous privilege, but I’ve become aware of it. Some of us took a little longer to wake up, but here now. I know that I will not likely be killed for racial profiling. Just as I know that my voice and job is be a column of support and to keep the movement moving forward by not letting others strip away voting rights from citizens. To use my privilege to provide possibilities of a better future.
I wrote a piece for my job today about Selma, discussing the lessons between Ferguson and Selma and what’s changed. I wasn’t positive about it because I see the deadly force and the similar tactics 50 years later. But I can also see the future as the President sees it. I can hope for the best, for an inclusive world.
Ferguson is the epicenter of minorities asking for rights, for white privilege to be acknowledged and broken, and for most importantly for equality. Over the summer and autumn, law enforcement routinely threw teargas to disperse the crowd while covering their own face. Mainstream media crews, like Al Jazeera America, ended up in the middle of a tug-of-war as the coverage intensified.
Gas masks are items of privilege and money. Law enforcement’s pockets are lined with government and citizen funds while the activists are forced to use taxed money to peacefully assemble. Equality became a visible us-versus-them mentality that superseded any level of humanity. And memories of the past slammed into the minds of those still searching for equality.
Life isn’t easy, but you simply carry on and move forward. You do not buckle. Instead look for support: “when it feels the road’s too hard, when the torch we’ve been passed feels too heavy, we will remember these early travelers, and draw strength from their example.”
I can see the brighter possibilities of a greater tomorrow, even if I have doubts about the current progressive nature of the nation. But I can see what President Obama wants for all the citizens of the nature. And the deep belief that as Americans, “we honor those who walked so we could run. We must run so our children soar.”
And some things have changed for the better in the past five decades. Women in leadership are no longer confined to a lesser status, even while working just as hard to gain rights. Now, women like Johnetta Elize, are front and center of the latest civil rights movement. And that’s how it should be. All people should be represented because all people created this nation–not a limited few.
As the President pointed out:
Because the single most powerful word in our democracy is the word “We.” We The People. We Shall Overcome. Yes We Can. It is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone. Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.
And who are we? What have black Americans accomplished in this nation? And what is America becoming?
We are storytellers, writers, poets, and artists who abhor unfairness, and despise hypocrisy, and give voice to the voiceless, and tell truths that need to be told.
We are the inventors of gospel and jazz and the blues, bluegrass and country, hip-hop and rock and roll, our very own sounds with all the sweet sorrow and reckless joy of freedom.
So let us soar, America, and make the next generation equal unto each other. Let the future generations know support, regardless of personal differences, because security and protection should be a given in a world already fraught with peril.
Let’s lead the way starting now.