As you all know very well, we are in the midst of an exceedingly crucial time for people of color, of non-heterosexual gender identity, of virtually all non-center identities, and, in fact, for all Americans and for the democratic principles of this experiment in equality launched 260 years ago.
The organization which you have joined, the NAACP, has a 100 year plus history of fighting for the rights of all who suffer discrimination. So many of its endeavors have been successful, and so many of its leaders have been seen for the fierce, dedicated and enormously strong people they were and are.
The danger, though, in looking at the glorious history of the NAACP is to solely attribute its power to only those exceptional men and women, and its impact only to those critical times in our history. The truth, however, is both much simpler and, at the same time, more complex.
I recently watched the movie, “Selma.” King, Ralph Abernathy, Coretta Scoot King, Andrew young, John Lewis, etc., are focused on, and presented as the pivotal forces of energy and dedication that they in fact were.
But watching the scenes of the marches, it is hard not to follow the camera as it scans the faces of the men and women who filled the ranks of the marchers behind King and his co-leaders, those whose energy and commitment were every bit as much a part of the power displayed, and who remain unnamed. Without them, without those who marched, those who suffered beatings that the headlines didn’t highlight, the triumph at Selma might well not have succeeded.
I am recounting these obvious and well-known facts because I think that I, and every one of you, have in front of us the chance to be part of that power if we simply come together, and stand behind- march behind, figuratively speaking- our members who are working in so many ways to further the cause.
Our branch has people that are watching the political life of our state and city and acting publicly when they see that a need we stand for needs to be addressed by the legislature. We have people who are engaging the whole of our community in the need for voting and who will facilitate people getting to the polls who otherwise would not have thought it necessary or possible. We have people who are working tirelessly to educate children in the schools to the history and literature of black writers and creators through the Readathon, and their parents in the community through the Little Free Libraries. We have people who are actively engaged in working toward fair housing practices, inclusive health policies, resolving cultural disputes in our city through the C.H.A.R.T. process, stepping up for people who experience discrimination. These are our action leaders; it’s not altogether stretching a point to say they are our Kings, our Abernathys, Youngs, Lewis’.
But going to all those meetings, writing all those emails, making all of those calls, thinking through all of those questions and needs is not easy. And, it gets draining and lonely carrying a banner that the recipients of all of those actions don’t quite really understand or feel commitment of any strength to. So, each of these activists/fighters needs to have that same kind of energy and support that the marchers at Selma gave King and company. That’s what keeps one going when it all seems to be too much.
In particular, on the second Tuesday of every month, they need to look out at the seats in front of them and see them filled with people who stand with them in their efforts (should we ever get back to meeting in person), or, at the least, to see the virtual screen filled with faces.
So, come to the meetings. Come even if the most you can give right now is simply to be there; please don’t underestimate the importance and power of that simple act.
Can meetings get a bit boring at times? Yes, they can. We’re taking steps to reduce that truth as much as possible, but it is the nature of the beast. I don’t think the marchers at Selma or in Washington D.C. were furiously engaged in every moment. There were times, probably for most of them, when just being there was the total of what they could do, and the hours were long and, I’m sure, even tedious.
But when Martin Luther looked back at the throng behind him in Selma, or when he looked out at the enormous crowd in front of him in Washington, the energy they gave him by being there was the juice that fed his mighty words.
Remember that everything you do, even the smallest act, moves forward toward the goal of true equality for all.