“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” — Martin Luther King Jr.
February was Black History Month. Having a boyfriend who is African-American has inevitably and yet thankfully opened my eyes and heart even more to so many people who have had an impact on the development and evolution of black culture throughout history.
During the month of February we watched together many movies, some fictional but most factual, that portrayed the stories of individuals who helped to break down racism and discrimination, fight for equal rights, rise to a place of honor and respect in unjust systems and challenged others to be treated with humanness and dignity.
“Malcolm X,” “The Hurricane,” “Hidden Figures,” “Loving,” “The Book of Negroes,” “42,” “The Race,” “Roots,” “Buffalo Soldiers,” “Red Tails,” “The Help,” “Selma,” “Amistad,” “The Color Purple,” “Fruitvale Station,” “Glory,” “Crooklyn,” “Fences,” “Freedom Riders,” “The Great Debaters,” “Dark Girls,” “12 Years a Slave,” “The Butler,” “The Tuskegee Airmen,” “Rosewood,” “The Long Walk Home,” “Birth of a Nation,” “Miracle at St. Anna,” “Get on the Bus,” “Straight Outta Compton,” “Men of Honor,” “Higher Learning,” “Precious,” “4 Little Girls” — and the list goes on. All of these movies share the stories of individuals like you and me, many of them women, who had as much right to have a voice and place in the world, in America, in history.
I will admit that some of these I had learned about in limited bits and pieces over the years in school, at work or at home, but unfortunately I had not heard about a majority of these people, what they struggled with and went through, and for that I am sorry.
I am embarrassed by the fact that we are a people who have made life so challenging and difficult for so many for so many years. Though personally I feel that I am not one who has held back, discriminated or treated others differently than myself, I know that I have witnessed others in my life who have, and for that I am sorry as well. I know that if I would have been around during the Civil Rights Movement, I would have marched right along with Martin Luther King Jr. and others seeking equality. If I had been around during the Civil War, I would have been the advocate assisting men, women and children through the underground railroad. If I had been a woman of color seeking an education and a career outside of the home, I would have fought for my place in the system.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” — Martin Luther King Jr.
Unfortunately, we still continue to do just this — hold people back because of the color of their skin, keep them in chains though I hope not literally, so that they are not given a chance for equality, justice, integrity and peace.
Why are we afraid to learn from others, learn about others? Do we forget we are all created in God’s image no matter our color, the place we were born, the way we pray, the career we have, the town we live in, the clothes we wear, the language we speak, the song we sing, the food we eat?
A couple of years ago, my kids and I visited Washington, D.C., over spring break. Every night we plotted out what the next day held for museums, tours, memorials and food. It was unanimously agreed upon that we had to see the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial.
Around the grand and inspiring statue of MLK in the middle are 14 quotes from various speeches he gave during his lifetime as he moved throughout the country working for equality, dignity and justice for all. The whole memorial setting, with hundreds of people milling about, was quiet and reflective, with many people overpowered by tears. For anyone who knows about Martin Luther King Jr., he was a simple and humble man from a life very similar to many of us. He chose to be a messenger of good will, good faith, love and peace — a man created in God’s likeness just like you and me, who believed in the goodness and beauty of all mankind.
Can we be like Martin Luther King Jr. and like so many of the others who have helped define our collective history of these United States, and be the kind of person who is loving and accepting of all for now and into our future?
“I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” — Martin Luther King Jr.
Elizabeth Neville is director of the St. Cloud Mission Office.