Profound impact is delivered in many ways. Mine came in the form of a movie. How beautiful it is to have film today; to have the ability to join in and bear witness to such emotion, such beauty, and such horror. What a privilege it is to sit comfortably in a theatre or home and take these images and stories in. There is a power in seeing and hearing. I found myself thinking this as I sat and watched the story of Selma unfold on the screen before me.
I was born into a media age, and as such, have little appreciation for the relative newness, power, and role that film has played in our history. I had almost zero understanding of the role that journalists and film played in the civil rights movement, especially when it came to Dr. King. He and those close to him understood the power of the visual story. Where they went, the media followed. A once small and insignificant town would be thrust beneath the glaring eye of media scrutiny when they showed up. The corrupt and abusive authorities who once tormented, terrorized and brutalized African-American’s in virtual anonymity, would then have to carry on in the light.
For those under 40, the civil rights movement is little more than a historical time marked in textbooks. It was a time so horrible and strange that many of us find it difficult to grasp and identify with. We have learned about it through school and media. And while some have been privileged enough to hear stories from family or friends who marched and protested; for many, it is a space in history that has only been further muted by distance and indifference.
Watching this movie was a tremendous sensory experience, and there were times when I felt like the weight of the film would crush me. But I sat, and I watched, and I took it all in- every sight, sound, word, facial expression, and interaction. The emotion was raw and palpable. The story was wretched and beautiful, and both the wretched and beautiful fought to overcome the other. In less than two hours I bore witness to the humanity of a man, the grace and elegance of a woman, and the bravery and determination of countless men, women, and children in the face of unparalleled evil.
At times I found myself nodding my head like a parishioner in the church of justice. Other times I was overtaken by emotion. I sat and sobbed. My body literally shook in grief for all that was done and all that is still done; for all that was fought for and for all that is yet to be fought for. I allowed it in. It was the very least I could do to honor Dr. King, his legacy, and those who have fought and suffered so much.
I watched the screen as a mother held her sons broken and bullet-riddled body after he was shot by an officer of the law for walking in the street. Instead of choking back the tears and reminding myself this was just a movie- I thought about my two sons. My two beautiful sons- children with whom I’ve had the privilege of walking beside during their journey into adolescence; gifts I get to unwrap and experience on a daily basis. If I’m indeed blessed, I will have the privilege of watching them grow into men. What a joy it will be for me as a mother to watch them blossom and grow, to encourage their interests and passions, and to marvel at the men they become. I sat with this weight and contemplated what it must have been like for this particular mother and countless others who couldn’t merely bask in pride but had to fear for their babies lives. And I wept for those mothers who held their babies bodies- bloodied and broken and without breath- lives stopped short because of hate and power and silence.
And it’s that silence that I want to shatter. That silence that rolls its eyes at yet another topic involving racism. That silence that tells us that racism no longer impacts a large number of people, that these are stories without relevance in today’s United States, and that people should just move on. And let’s not be fooled by the idea that silence is passive. It is as active and hardworking as non-violence has and continues to be. It bullies and shames. It feeds, strengthens and emboldens racism. It is the enemy of reconciliation, justice, and peace. And it must come to an end.
It is time to shatter the silence.