Those who traveled to Selma or who watched President Obama’s message heard one of the president’s most impactful speeches on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Ala. His delivery was anchored in a sea of humility and genuineness, which acknowledged he was the benefactor of the sacrificial beatings and disrespect many Americans took on that bloody Sunday in Selma, Ala. on March 7, 1965.
While there were several themes to draw from, the one that drew rivers of tears and ultimately the subject of this letter was the theme that America is a country of “we” as evidenced in the following excerpt:
”Because Selma shows us that America is not the project of any one person and that the most powerful word in our democracy is “We.” We The People. We Shall Overcome. Yes We Can. It is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone.”
That particular theme affirmed the many Facebook posts and conversations in which I have consistently made regarding the actions of some whom in the name of the community or even in the name of children, appear to demonstrate a what’s in it for me attitude?
These self-propelled agendas prevent or minimize missions that have the chance of being successful for the greater good. Many times these agendas either fail or never reach their potential height due to the mission getting lost in the individual “I.”
The mission in Selma to gain the right to vote for “all” Americans was propelled to greater heights by the death of Jimmy Lee Jackson. Even though there were those who were registering individuals to vote prior to Dr. King’s arrival, it was the realization of Amelia Boynton Robinson that their efforts and struggle needed to be led by someone who had demonstrated the ability to achieve the mission at hand and who was motivated by a genuine desire to see the betterment of his people and the world.
As a result, the call to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was made, asking him to come to Selma. While there were those who attempted to avert the mission for their own personal agendas, the majority stayed the course, trusting and supporting Dr. King’s leadership. They saw that their efforts were not in vain as President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 just four months later.
In St. Petersburg at a time when we have the many people with degrees and access to opportunities, we must take our lessons from history. We must recognize and organize against the traps that are set to ensure that our children aren’t prepared to enter kindergarten. We must recognize and organize against the traps that are aimed at ensuring African-American boys and men are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system.
We must recognize and organize against the traps that place individuals in office who have very little concern about the collective “we.” We must recognize and organize against the traps that place billions of dollars into Midtown, yet residents and business owners rarely benefit.
We must recognize and organize against the traps that pit African Americans against each other, particularly those African Americans President Obama referenced as those who “argue and fight with so much passion and conviction, because we know our efforts matter.”
We must recognize and organize against the traps that find African Americans disproportionately under employed or unemployed. We must recognize and organize against the traps that result in schools populated by large percentages of African-American students and consistently fail.
We must recognize and organize against the disproportionate number of African-American children that enter ninth grade, but do not make it to graduation. We must recognize and organize against the complacency, apathy and acceptance of mediocrity. In spite of our gains, there is still work to be done.
Lastly, when those who fight with passion and compassion for causes and missions greater than themselves get weary, again take heed to the words from our Commander-In-Chief:
“When it feels the road’s too hard, when the torch we’ve been passed feels too heavy, we will remember these early travelers, and draw strength from their example and hold firmly to the words of the prophet Isaiah: ‘Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not be faint.’ We honor those who walked so we could run. We must run so our children soar. And we will not grow weary. For we believe in the power of an awesome God, and we believe in this country’s sacred promise.”
– Maria L. Scruggs