"What Will You Do?"

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to attend a seminar with Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) and Andrew Aydin. The event was hosted and facilitated by the Family Action Network and Loyola University Chicago School of Law. Lewis and Aydin collaborated to produce a series of graphic novels entitled “March.” The graphic novels are a non-traditional way to inform and educate people on the Civil Rights Era.

Many people in America never grew up learning about the importance of the Civil Rights Movement. To quote Andrew Aydin there is a "nine word problem" in our country. When it comes to the Civil Rights Era there are only nine words that people can usually think of--Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, I Have a Dream. This is an issue when it comes to understanding the social injustice that is currently taking place in this country.

People who are not directly affected by this movement cannot relate to the struggles that some of us face. There is a lot of history that is often left out and overlooked, many times on purpose. We are much more than the “I Have a Dream” speech. If people cannot relate to, or at least understand our history of social injustice, they cannot be empathetic or feel for what is happening. The injustice that is going on in our society is overlooked because of the ignorance to the start and the root of the problem.

Let me clarify and be more specific about what I mean by social injustice in America. I mean the unfair treatment and belittlement of Black people, and the targeting, killing and harassment of unarmed Black men.

When black people make noise about our injustice we are called thugs. We are complaining. We need to get over the past. But, I ask you, how are we to get over the past when the past has yet to end? The Civil Rights Era in America has never really ended. Yes, we have more rights and freedoms now than we ever had before, but we are still not seen as full Americans.

Let's take a minute to revisit history. Slavery in America lasted almost 300 years until the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Slavery wasn't truly abolished until December 6, 1865. In some states slavery continued on, in some form, even after that. The Civil Rights Movement ended in 1968. Therefore, we are only 48 years post the movement. 48 years is not enough time for a country to heal completely, to rid itself from turmoil and pain that lasted centuries. This is why John Lewis and his graphic novels are so important. They teach us lessons and history from the past.

In the novels, he recalls stories from when he stood up for the rights and injustices of our people. During the discussion, he recalls stories from his childhood and teenage years. He never forgot the people that fought and died for our rights, and the time he shared with Dr. King. When speaking about Rosa Parks and Dr. King, he started they “inspired me to find a way to get in the way.” How powerful is that?

I was blown away by the passion and fire that he has inside of him. It was truly an honor to hear him speak. Everyone in our country should use “March” as a blueprint and a learning tool to move forward. We need to teach children growing up in this country that hatred is not okay and it will not be tolerated.

What are you willing to do to see change?

“When you see something that is not fair, not right, not just, you have a moral obligation to stand up.” - Congressman John Lewis (D-GA)

By Rachel M. Roberts