The Rapidian

On MLK Day the Call to action is to resist

I believe that, in this moment, a call to unity echoes the kind of erasure that washes away the narratives of people like my grandmother.
Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. [Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking.], 08/28/1963.

Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. [Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking.], 08/28/1963. /The U.S. National Archives

/Mojet Photography

My grandmother used to tell me stories of her life in Mississippi. She was born in a city called Cotton Plant, Mississippi. Her narrative was almost straight from the novel "The Help" without the sensationalized narratives and sanitized brutality. She would reflect on having her lunch set on a doghouse by her employer because eating for her had to occur outside the home, even while she was the one cooking the meals. Her experiences of having to deal with employers attempting to pay her in used clothes rather than the wages promised to her for her work. She would tell me these stories to reinforce how much hope she had for this world and what it was capable of. She died seeing a country that socialized her to understand that her rights were limited to nonexistent,( Black people could be lynched without justice and that the south was the most dangerous place to be a Black American) – elect a Black American as the President of the United States.

In adulthood, I often reflect on her stories and the joy she had in seeing my siblings and I live in ways that fulfilled us. She was able to see us boldly approach life void of the limitations that may have otherwise killed us in the Jim Crow south. She saw granddaughters achieve without needing men to survive. She saw us fall in love with whomever we desired, without the consideration of race as a barrier in how far that relationship could go. She saw this country shift in a way that affirmed her belief in miracles and the possibilities that she undoubtedly prayed endlessly about as she endured a civil rights era that could’ve easily left the strongest among us without hope.

As we seemingly steamrolled into 2017, I couldn’t help but be grateful that she died before seeing a man endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan take office as Head of State. While I do not share the religious leanings of my grandmother, I do whole-heartedly believe that people are capable of doing incredible things. I believe that individuals can and do change the world everyday. I also believe that liberty and justice is not a spectator’s sport. I believe that, in this moment, a call to unity echoes the kind of erasure that washes away the narratives of people like my grandmother. I cannot honor her memory, her investment in my existence and her hope for my life and her family whilst supporting a President who uses people as a means to an end. I cannot allow systems and institutions that allow men like Donald Trump to remain at large as they profit, by any means necessary, off of the suffering of others to exist unchanged.

On this day, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, I find myself with a single call to action: resist. I cannot honor my ancestors in any way that reflects even a modest amount of complicity; their blood paints this nation and the memory of that is what fuels my path. I cannot participate in supporting education policies that punish children because the teacher or administration doesn’t understand them or the teaching practices are inherently discriminate. I cannot support any criminal justice reform that does not deal with disparity at every level from policing to prosecution to incarceration to release. I cannot passively accept immigration policy that deals in discriminatory deportation and affinity fueled acceptance. I cannot support our continued embrace of a culture that blames victims for their victimization and allows for perpetrators to continue preying on the most vulnerable in our communities. I cannot accept what is fundamentally unacceptable; and it is time you do the same.

Today, some of you will reflect on the legacy of Dr. King and, as best put by the New York Times, which legacy are you remembering? Dr. King engaged in active resistance and was met with state sanctioned violence. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), in reflecting on his involvement in the civil rights movement this morning, reminded us that not all laws are just and sometimes fighting for justice means challenging authority.

If resistance is something you truly seek to engage in, here are a few recommendations:

1.     Listen to the perspectives of groups most affected by the issues you are passionate about.

2.     Educate yourself. Seek out source materials to inform your opinions and do not make media commentary your primary education. You can use it as a place to start, but don’t fall into the vacuum of opinion driven news cycles and assume that it is absolute fact.

3.     Get to know people outside of your circles of influence. If you go to church, go to a church that is filled with people and perspectives that are not your own just to listen. If you live in Heritage Hill, go eat and have coffee on Grandville Avenue. You get where I’m going with this.

4.     Be intentional about your financial investments. Are you intentionally supporting businesses that are owned by underrepresented groups in your community? Are you banking at an institution that supports the disenfranchisement of vulnerable communities (i.e. Dakota Access Pipeline, predatory lending practices, etc.)? Do you eat at a restaurant that has a history of discriminating against certain groups of people? The list could go on and on.

5.     Hold your elected officials accountable. Getting angry on Facebook is meaningless if you turn around and vote for the person that thought allowing the Unemployment Insurance Agency in Michigan to fine unemployed individuals because the computer algorithm flagged legitimate claims as fraudulent is cool. Pay attention to what your elected officials are doing.

6.     Step up and support disenfranchised groups – whether it’s organizing to show support, changing internal practices that disparately affect certain groups, challenging your circles of influence to think beyond their own understanding and consider the realities of others.

7.     Check. Your. Self. Sometimes we do and say really offensive things. We hang offensive artwork. We use offensive language. Be open to criticism by others who hear/see this and correct you. It’s also worth saying, hold on to that criticism, reflect on it and allow it to influence your path forward. No one likes being wrong, but what’s worse is being wrong and still choosing to do the wrong thing.

8.     Teach your children better. Educate your kids. Have open and transparent dialogue with your kids. Encourage them to constantly reach beyond their own understanding.

9.     Do not accept violence from the state or from other people.

10.   Do not accept policies or practices just because it seems beyond your scope of influence or access. Authority should be challenged as a function of justice, equity and survival.

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