The “Death” of a Movement
My Grandma passed away on May 13th, 2010. She lived 78 beautiful years. Beautiful to me, anyway; history, however, paints a much different picture. When I sat cross-legged on the floor, she never tainted my young mind with the memories of struggle. Who wants to remember that stuff, anyway? No, the stories she told me were beautiful. Stories of mile-long walks through the hills of West Virginia to the grocery store, where, if she was really good, a dime from her mother allowed her to get “the best ice cream I had ever tasted.”
My Grandma was African-American. Born during the years of the Great Depression, she lived through events that I just heard about. Events, which, without a doubt, shaped who she was far before I came into the world. She lived the segregation. She witnessed the Brown v. Board of Education decision. She saw Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior’s speeches. She felt his words in ways incomprehensible to anyone who did not live the experience themselves. Yet, every story she told me was beautiful.
Just a couple weeks ago a few of my friends and I sat around our living room having what I thought was everyday conversation, until one of them dropped a bomb that was so catastrophic to my world, without even recognizing she had done so.
“I don’t believe in gay marriage. Being gay is a mental-defect. It’s just not natural”
The next couple moments are a blur in my mind. So many thoughts rushing through, all I remember is the overwhelming need to just scream. How could someone I have considered a friend display such blatant hatred? I tried to form the words of my thoughts into complete sentences that coherently explained that her feelings were no different than those who thought separation was equal, those who truly believed African-American’s were inferior, as if they had suffered the same sort of mental-defect that she had described, but I could tell I was failing. Her beliefs about homosexuality had been instilled in her mind since she was a child and nothing I could say would change that. I left the room out of pure frustrating and went upstairs where I could be alone, where I could cry. I had not felt such intense emotion since the day my Grandma died.
We speak of the Civil Rights Movement using verbs of the past-tense. As if it is a movement that once existed, but its issues have since been resolved. The reality is, the civil rights movement is still alive today. It is alive for homosexuals who are not able to marry the ones they love, it is alive for Latinos who can be pulled over just because, it is alive for all of us. For, as Dr. King said in his letter, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Reading through Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, I was flooded with memories of my Grandma. His words were filled with such pain that it brought tears to my eyes, yet such strength that it brought a smile to my mouth. I am not sure that I, myself, could stay as positive as they did. Before them, my parents would not have been allowed to drink out of the same water fountain. Without them, I would not be alive today. For them, I am forever grateful.
The hatred hidden behind their experiences are so ugly, but the stories they tell are so beautiful.