I love people. All people. I don’t care how old someone is, what their physical attributes are, or how they choose to present themselves to the world through how they look and dress. None of these things matter to me. What I pay the most attention to is the kind of heart a person has, and what they choose to do with the power and authority they have.
I believe all of us are virtually the same. No matter your race, religion or political beliefs, we all want a good life for ourselves and our families, with enough food to eat and comforts to enjoy. We all yearn for a life free from violence and danger, where we can learn and grow to reach our potential and find success, however we define it.
Most of all, what we want more than anything else, is simply to be heard. We all have so much to contribute to the world, why shouldn’t we try to help each other achieve what we’re capable of? Watching the movie, Hidden Figures, made me wonder how much differently things would have turned out, if several black women wouldn’t have been able to contribute their super powers to space flight, during a combative time of civil rights.
Spending time in Alabama recently was very emotional for me. Hate hurts my heart; especially when the hate comes from the perceived differences between us. The idea that someone can hate someone or think them less than human, based on what they look like or which religion they choose to practice, distresses me.
I had the opportunity to go on a civil rights tour of Birmingham, before the conference I was there to attend started. The tour started where the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s began, at Bethel Baptist Church. From 1956 to 1961, this church became the headquarters for the movement. Although the church was bombed three times, the brave congregants of this church continued to wage nonviolent battle to fight for equal rights and first class citizenship. One man, Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, the pastor of the church, was bombed, beaten and jailed more than any other civil rights minister. He risked his life, to lead his congregation to what must have seemed like an impossible vision.
Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, where the Civil Rights Movement began.
From there, we went to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. The docents that led our tour told us the sad history of Birmingham, and the violence and bloodshed it took to end segregation, and told us many personal stories about how their lives were impacted at that time. There were so many stories of how individual, brave people took a stand to change history. People who like all of us, simply wanted to be heard. It was shocking to see actual physical remnants of the time, a tangible reminder of the violence and sacrifice: the actual burned-out bus that was bombed, carrying Freedom Riders, on their way to a protest in Birmingham; the door of the cell that held Rev. Martin Luther when he wrote “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” trying to be heard by encouraging white religious leaders to take a stand, and the most disturbing artifacts of all – personal belongings the four little girls were carrying the day they lost their lives in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, located right across the street from the Institute.
Docent and display at Civil Rights Institute. 16th Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama
During our conference, we heard from Keynote Speaker Judge Helen Shores. Judge Shores and her sister Barbara have published the book “The Gentle Giant of Dynamite Hill: The Untold Story of Arthur Shores and his Family’s Fight for Civil Rights,” telling us their stories of survival and the fights of their father, a Civil Rights attorney who was often targeted by the Klan. Listening to their horrific stories brought tears to my eyes. That people in our country were treated like they were, with such disdain and cruelty breaks my heart. I bought their book, but am not sure it will be “Happy reading,” as Barbara wished me in her signature.
Judge Helen Shores Lee and Barbara S. Shores, authors of a book about their father.
Hearing the stories of these fierce women, makes me realize I have no idea what it must be like to have authority wage a war against you, just because of your skin color. As children, they were trained to “hit the floor” to protect themselves from bullets and bombings. As the incidents of hate crimes have gone up in the past year, and White Supremacy is proudly showing their faces again, I’ve thought, “Why are we going backwards? Why do we have to fight this fight again?” Unfortunately, the real truth is the fight has never stopped. It’s just become more hidden and easier to ignore when you’re not the one being affected.
Adding to the feeling of sadness and uncertainty, Hurricane Irma was bearing down on Florida during my trip. The hotel was full of scared, tired people with their furry friends, fleeing the storm for their lives. The evacuees seemed hopeful and relieved to be safe, but at the same time the tension felt as thick as the humidity. My sister lives in Florida, on the beach outside Tampa. Although she was already on vacation, away from home, it was still nerve racking to me and my family, that her home was in danger. Fortunately, the hurricane subsided before getting to Tampa and there was little damage. Watching people come together and help each other through both the recent deadly hurricanes, regardless of our differences, gave me hope that there is still more love than hate in the world.
But, the part of my trip that buoyed my spirit the most, happened on the first day of the Alabama Writer post tour I stayed for. We drove from Birmingham to Montgomery early in the morning, passing through the town square where people were once sold as slaves, to reach the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where Rev. Martin Luther King served as senior pastor. We arrived right on time to join the congregation for Sunday worship services. At a time when some people may have reason to be less than trustful of strangers, the small congregation welcomed all of us, touring writers and hurricane evacuees, with hugs so warm and inviting you could feel their love. This unconditional acceptance, made us all feel part of the celebration, which amazingly was a special Women’s Leadership Day Celebration, led by the women of the church with the theme, “Women of God, Conquerors Through Christ. Who Shall Separate Us?” It was an experience I’ll never forget.
Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama
There is good in the world and it’s worth fighting for. We all need to listen to each other. This is especially important when the fight is not one that has direct impact on us and people are taking desperate actions, just to be heard. One person can make a difference. It is up to all of us to be that one person. Love will win.