When we look to our elders for wisdom, we hope that they will provide the guidance we need.
When the late Congressman John Lewis passed away last year, America lost one of the most respected politicians of our era. One of the icons of the Civil Rights moment, he had a perspective on this country that only someone who lived what he experienced could see.
Carry On: Reflections for a New Generation was published last month. Written by Congressman Lewis before his death, it is a series of observations and insight that comes from someone who walked this Earth for nearly 80 years.
With a foreword by Andrew Young and co-written by Kabir Seghal, this has to be one of the best books of the year. It is written in such a way that is appealing and universal without feeling like the reader is being talked down to. It was as if I was sitting down to talk with a beloved grandparent and learning without realizing it.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Justice was served in the United States. Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd.
If am to be completely honest, I was holding my breath as I watched the news coverage. G-d only knows what would have happened had Chauvin been acquitted.
I can only hope that this case represents a change not just for the various law enforcement departments across this country, but for the country as a whole. If we are to reach the imagery and idealism that is the backbone of this nation, this verdict is an important step. The police can no longer target men and women of color without impunity.
Though this case cannot remove the stain of the past, it is a what we need to move forward. Perhaps the future is bright in this country after all.
There are two equally important keys to success: talent and hard work.
The 4th season of National Geographic Channel’s Genius series follows the life and career of the late Aretha Franklin. The first three episodes cuts back and forth from the early fifties, when the future superstar is a preteen to the sixties when the adult Aretha (Cynthia Erivo) is on the brink of superstardom. As a young girl, Franklin was a singing wunderkind. Raised by her enigmatic preacher father C.L. Franklin (Courtney B. Vance), she witnesses both his devotion to the church and his less than moral extracurricular activities. In the present, she is not only dealing with work and motherhood, but her sometimes shaky marriage to her husband/manager, Ted White (Malcolm Barrett).
Watching the first three episodes, I feel like I know who Aretha Franklin was, as a whole person. Not just the image presented in the press. Looking back, she represents badly needed change in this country for both women and people of color.
Dr. King was one of many who fought for equality. Though his ultimate goal was equality for African-Americans, it spread to the rest of the country. Women, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and other Americans of color who have been disenfranchised heard his message and understood exactly what he was saying.
Though we can proudly say that we have made progress in the multiple decades since he was taken from us, it is more than clear that true equality is still too far off for many. I remember a cartoon in a book when I was in school. The image was of a tree had been cut at its base, but the roots were untouched. The analogy about racism and prejudice was obvious.
The fact is that we have a long way to do. Between the riot in DC almost two weeks ago and the murders of multiple African Americans last year, the dark side of the United States revealed itself in a way that was opening.
What Dr. King started almost a century ago, we have to finish. It is the only way to make his dream a reality.
The difference between you know and Congressman Lewis is that Congress Lewis was an American hero who exemplified selflessness. He was front and center in the Civil Rights marches of the 1960’s, putting his life on the line for the rights and freedoms of others.
I would be thoroughly shocked if you know who did anything for anyone else besides himself.
RIP John Lewis. Your contribution to American history will live forever.
Born in 1940 to sharecropper parents in Alabama, segregation was part and parcel of the world he grew up in. In the early 1960’s, he joined the Civil Rights movement and was one of the original Freedom Riders. Twenty five years later, he was elected to Congress. On both sides of the political aisle, he was one of the most respected men to have walked through the halls of power.
If there was ever a textbook definition of an American hero, John Lewis’s picture would be front and center. He knew what he believed in and fought for those beliefs, even when victory seemed nearly impossible. As both a Civil Rights leader and a member of Congress, he taught all of what strength and courage look like.
May his memory be a blessing and an inspiration to us all.
Racism of any kind is a disease. It blinds us to see the humanity of others, forcing us to judge someone solely on one aspect of their character or identity.
Over the last week or so, there have been headlines that state that certain African-American celebrities using their platform to spout antisemitic lies. One of these celebrities in Nick Cannon.
I have two very specific thoughts about this topic, which is making my stomach turn.
The first is that the people who are spouting these lies are ignorant. They aren’t stupid, but they are ignorant. One does not have the career longevity in Hollywood that Cannon has by being stupid.
What is sadly sometimes forgotten is that American Jews worked hand in hand with African-Americans in the fight for equality during the Civil Rights era. I wish Cannon and those who think like him would have done their research before opening their mouths or going to their keyboards.
The second is that we have a common enemy. They are called the alt-right. In their ideal world, America is a Christian, Caucasian, and Heterosexual nation. Anyone who does not fit into those categories is therefore, not allowed to be an American.
If America is to become the ideals written down in our founding documents, we have to put our differences aside and remember what we have in common. If we don’t, then we will never become what we say we are.
History is not always made by the big names that are in the headlines. It is sometimes made by those who are not in the spotlight.
In the 1960’s, the Space Race was heating up. It was also a time of change in America. The Civil Rights movement forced the country to face it’s shameful past of denying human and legal rights to the African-American community.
Katherine Johnson may not have known it at the time, but she had a role to play in changing America for the better. Mrs. Johnson passed away today at the age of 101.
In her day, she was automatically disqualified for certain jobs because she was a woman and a citizen of color. But when push came to shove, her mathematical abilities overcame those barriers and helped America go into space for the first time.
After decades of silence, she was finally given her due in the 2016 film, Hidden Figures. She was played on screen by Taraji P. Henson.
“When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism.”
What many forget is that American Jews were on the forefront of the Civil Rights moment.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was not only a good friend of Dr. King, he was an ally. He was on the front lines with Dr. King, fighting for the rights of African-Americans.
In 1964, three young men were murdered because they believed that all Americans, regardless of race, were equal. James Chaney was the son of a African-American family from Mississippi. Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were raised Jewish in the New York City area. They came together and were murdered together because of what they believed and what they were fighting for.
When I think about Martin Luther King Jr., I think of a man of courage, honor and conviction. He knew that the journey and others were about embark upon was dangerous. But he also knew that it was right. I take that as a lesson not just in my personal life, but in every aspect of my life. What is right is not always easy. But in that lack of ease comes the knowledge that though the journey is difficult, it is the only way forward.
Coming of age during the Civil Rights era, he is an icon of the movement and a time when African-Americans were fighting for their most basic rights. As an adult, he first became a lawyer and then went into politics. Recently, he was known for going up against you know who and defending the reputation of his hometown.
It’s hard to find a politician who is as principled, honorable and respectful of this country as Rep Cummings. He set a standard not just for our era, but for the future of what American politics should look like.