Thoughts as a result of the #MarchOnWashington

Georgia's 5th District Representative John Lewis looking up while speaking in the Great Hall of the Libary of Congress on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington 2013 By Djembayz (Own work) 
Note: I wrote this as a reaction to an article on Ebony magazine's website that discusses the exclusion of youth in the 50th anniversary of the March On Washington. I was five, and rather irritated by parents' constant "shhhh" to me and my sister when we said we wanted to watch something else. Of course, I didn't see the significance of the event at the time. I was more interested in Mighty Mouse and Heckle and Jeckle cartoons, and, as I noted in my response to the article, my first day of school. As of now, I'm waiting to see if my comment will be approved for publication, a necessary process that doesn't bother me in the least. The site has probably been hit by the deluge of the typical Internet troll brigade who love to espouse the doctrine of "reverse racism" found on web sites like The Root and The Griot, thus creating the necessity of moderators. In the meantime, I decided to post it here as a tribute to the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. I watched (and cried during) the Interfaith Service on PBS and the rest of the March's commemorative events that took place in front of the Lincoln Memorial on NBC's D.C.'s web site.  
However, I completely missed the 20th anniversary of the March On Washington, probably because I was in a very dysfunctional marriage, further complicated by the fact that despite matrimony, I was essentially raising two toddlers by myself. Quite frankly, I don't even remember hearing or seeing anything about the 20th Anniversary of the March on Washington. Thank God, I'm no longer in such a desperately isolated situation. I wonder if I would have had the presence of mind to appreciate the event at that time in my life. I don't take that for granted today. I am keenly aware that through my belief in the Baha'i Faith, my continued prayers and study of the Writings of Baha'u'llah, the Ba'b, 'Abdu'l-Baha' and Shoghi Effendi, and my participation 12 step recovery from food addiction and codependency has created the capacity for me to eliminate the chaos and distractions that used to plague my life, and made it difficult for me to even imagine anything beyond my immediate circumstances. For these evidences of God's Eternal Grace in my life over the past 23 years, I am abundantly filled with gratitude.
By the way, I have done some editing on this post, so the one that might appear on Ebony's site will be different from this one. You know how writers are--never, ever satisfied. I'm constantly appalled by how much I drop words in my sentences and make unacceptable grammar mistakes.
I need an editor with me every time I sit down in front of my computer. :)

My response to the Dream Defenders' #MarchOn article
I am 55 years old, so I am part of the "old folks". But I hope my story will serve as a precautionary measure for the Black Youth of today, because unfortunately, the years seem to zoom unacceptably fast after 30.
Fifty years ago, my parents watched in very grim, absorbed silence the news reports of the March on Washington. They couldn't participate; they had two little girls, myself and my younger sister; my mother was pregnant with my brother; and my father, as a loadmaster in the Air Force and on constant alert in the escalating Vietnam War, couldn't march without risking going AWOL, which would have been an economic disaster to our family. I was like many children--the nightly news was boring, grown up stuff (there was no such thing as more than one television in a household back then, at least not in the families I knew). Besides, I had my own problems--I was entering kindergarten in less than two weeks. I was very nervous and scared. My parents warned me that there probably wouldn't be many other Black children at the school I was going to attend.
They were wrong. I was the ONLY Black child in the school. I'll never forget the look of complete shock on my teacher's face, followed by a hurriedly professional smile. The other students stared at my mother and me, and continued staring as my teacher showed me to a desk and chair in the back of the classroom. She didn't seem to hear the whispers "She's a nigger!" and "What's SHE doing here?" like I did. I wanted desperately to go back home, and I considered running out and hopping back into the car with my mother. But my parents told me that getting an education was important, and that people DIED for the opportunity for me to sit in that classroom. So I choked back the tears and concentrated on what the teacher was saying, thereby giving the impression that the whispered taunts had no effect on me.
I didn't know much at five years old, but I figured that dying was permanent and usually unpleasant. If a complete stranger did that so I could get a good education, unlike the kind my parents received in the Jim Crow South that they grew up in, the very least I could do was sit there and learn. After all, I was somewhat certain that my White classmates weren't going to kill me at recess the same way my parents' told me the racists down South did Black people. However, I wasn't always convinced that murder was the farthest thing on my classmates' minds. It's probably worth mentioning that this took place in Sacramento, California in 1963, which, in terms of being on the West Coast, was as far away from the Deep South one can get in the U.S., with the exception of Alaska and Hawaii.
This scenario was repeated several times over the years. My sister followed me in elementary school the next year, and we integrated the schools as we walked through the doors. My father was often transferred to different bases, and since he was a non-commissioned officer, there wasn't always space for us on base and in the Department of Defense schools. Because of the military's hierarchy, we were forced to attend the local schools, where we had to contend with being part of post-Brown vs. The Board of Education integration movement. It was true that we received a much better education than what my parents had in the South. But my siblings and I had a difficult time understanding the open hostility, threats and taunting. At times, it was simply unbearable. Socially, I withdrew and walked around the playgrounds by myself, hoping that none of them would approach me and force me to do something that I knew would get me into trouble--fighting back with words and fists. That's what my parents told me to do if I encountered trouble at school. They had no idea that my claims of self-defense would not be honored when I did as they advised. Inevitably, I was the only one who suffered punishment, which was often corporal. I never told my parents about those experiences. Their lives were complicated enough. Besides, unless they had a magic potion for curing institutional and personal racism, their efforts at obtaining justice for me would have exacerbated my day to day situation at school.
I became more and more angry as I progressed through grade school. By the time I entered the 8th grade in 1971, I was in a constant state of rage. I started wearing an Afro, and I obsessively read novels, essays and poetry written by the Harlem Renaissance writers and modern writers like Nikki Giovanni, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, june jordan, Lorraine Hansberry, Gayl Jones, Gwendolyn Brooks, Alice Walker, Toni Cade Bambara, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, LeRoi Jones, Eldridge Cleaver, Alex Haley, John Hope Franklin, Lerone Bennett and Dr. Alvin Poussaint. These were works provided by parents, who knew the schools I attended routinely ignored the contributions of Black writers and historians. I wanted to join the local Black Panther Party, but since I was only 13 and had no direct contact with the movement, I knew that was impossible. But I was very grateful for the sense of pride and self esteem that era gave me. For the first time in my life, I felt both empowered and emboldened to deal with the racist nonsense to which I had been exposed for years.
Unfortunately, it was mostly unfocused and emotionally-charged REACTIONS to my previous experiences in what I call the Great American Social Experiment, better known as integration. By the time I graduated from high school in 1976, both the Black Power and Civil Rights movement seemed to have run out of steam. My friends and I considered "all that stuff" old news, and the best way we could "fight the power" was to get a college education and lucrative careers. For me and my friends, we succeeded in the higher education. Our careers can't exactly be described as "lucrative" (especially mine), but we became working stiffs like our parents.
What happened? Did we think we had "arrived" at the Great American Dream? For me and the rest of my friends, we were very aware that many problems still existed, but the short answer is, yes, we foolishly thought we had "arrived" at a place of respect in this society. We honestly believed that the issues that my parents had to deal with were part of the distant past, and we could best deal with the current ones by having more economic, social and political power through our jobs. We should have been less self-absorbed and more pro-active to the warning signs of regressive measures that were being taken way back in the early 80s. We were arrogant in our so-called "success". And for those of us who didn't do the college/career thing, regrettably, they simply "lost it" to  drug, alcohol, sex and love and all various addictions, incarceration, and /or mental illnesses. It's not an endearing legacy to leave to our children.
It's amazing how fast it has turned around within my lifetime. I never thought I would see part of the Voting Rights Act stuck down, in spite of past and current issues, and laws enacted to basically empower vigilantes to legally execute Black men on the streets. But there is a lesson in all this--never stop, never take any aspect of your social/economic lives for granted. Stay aware and take action. Our inaction and inattention to what was happening around us has had dire consequences. Please learn from my generation's mistakes. Don't leave this world in the same shape it is now. Please help make it better. I don't have the luxury of years that you collectively have, but I intend to do whatever I can do with the time I have left in my life. The lives of my children, my grandson, as-of-now unborn grandchildren, and the rest of you are worth that.
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