"Don't call me Joanne, lil' girl. It's Ms. Bland to you."
This was moments before Ms. Joanne Bland, civil rights veteran, swiped her fan on the back of my head and told me to "keep up" with her on our way to the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
Ms. Bland was only the tender age of 11 when she attempted to cross the bridge with 600 others, including Congressman John Lewis and her older sister, Lynda Lowery. Selma, the battleground of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, was filled with so many beautiful black people. Old men with gray hair and loose teeth endowed young people with their knowledge and life experiences. Husband and wife wore their Divine Nine regalia. Young aspiring Kappas walking in sync, displaying brotherhood. The epitome of black excellence graced the Boston2Selma group everywhere we turned. Selma was filled with the smell of fried catfish, sweet incense and freshly squeezed pineapple juice and grass.
Selma taught me many key points, but I will share the most notable ones.
1. Don't mess with Joanne Bland.
Ms. Bland is a true warrior. I will never forget her confident voice and funny remarks. I will never forget her sun-kissed brown skin, brown eyes and close-cropped hair. I will never forget her honesty and the stories she shared. I will never forget her touch. I pity the fool that gets in her way! Nothing can hinder her and that's a fact jack!
2. Non-Violence is not for everybody.
If you hit me, I will hit you back. There you go, I said it. I cannot imagine submitting myself into defenselessness while under attack as many veterans did on Bloody Sunday. I am eternally grateful for their service. I recall a white roommate punching me several times and hitting me with her palms. I practiced non-violence by not retaliating, and simply reported her to the dean, the Black Student Union and campus safety. Residence Life barely punished her and she never apologized. Instead, her mother confronted me and said nasty things to me. She ruined it for everybody because that will never happen again.
Oftentimes, you must meet your oppressor where they are at. We are driven by the power of love, but white supremacy and white patriarchy is driven by the love of power. Love does not conquer all. Sometimes, love for our enemies fuels their hate for us. When a police officer kills one of us, we need to hit them back with legislation demilitarizing them. You get my drift? I am not enticing violence, but merely stating that we have to fight back anything that restricts us from receiving proper health care and receiving a competent education.
3. White media will intrude your space.
Nobody will tell you this story, but I will! As Ms. Bland shared her experience on Bloody Sunday to the Boston2Selma group, white reporters were loudly speaking into their microphones. "Can you all be quiet? I can't hear her," said Kenyatta Blue Boston2Selma group member. They continued to report, "This was a peaceful march..." Many of us were upset and confronted the reporters. Why would they report that our being in Selma was peaceful? What did they expect, for our pilgrimage and the journey of black people from around the world to be violent? Black people cannot do anything for themselves without outsiders intruding. Every 28 hours we are being killed -- report that! Police presence was aggravatingly gross, as well. The National Guard was called to "handle" the crowd, as if the projected amount of people coming to Selma was not announced months ago.
4. CAUTION: Physically embracing a brother or a sister in pain may transfer their sorrows onto you.
I knew it was him as soon as I noticed the fierce beard that he handsomely rocks. His cool-headed eyes set upon me and we automatically embraced each other. I held on as long as I could. The fire in Michael Brown Sr.'s eyes obliterated the moment he lost his son, Mike Brown. Losing a child defies the law of nature. No smiles. No laughs. No merrymaking. No justice. No peace. Daily killings of unarmed black men and women discredits the perception that we have come a long way.
Fifty years ago, America made a promise. It promised us the right to vote. However, it did not promise that our vote would count. The elections of the past two decades are a testament to the fact that many black people in the U.S. are still disenfranchised. The "powers that be" have stripped us of what many of our people have fought and died for. Today, there are more black men in prison today than black men in Southern slavery during the 1800s. In America, Black women are less likely than any gender, race or group to be married in their lifetime. The list of issues in the black community can fill an entire book. Of course, progress has been made. Even so, complacency and satisfaction with our condition in the new Jim Crow Era cannot exist, or further progress will not be made.
Brown's sorrows transferred to me and I left Selma with a heavy heart.
5. Don't believe the hype!
Selma was filled with so many important people: politicians, musicians, news personalities and public figures. Many celebrities came to Selma and everyone wanted a picture, a hug and a long chat with them. I, too, was tempted to do the same. I learned, however, that community organizers/activists, not celebrities, are the most important people to meet. Most celebrities and personalities are paid to appear at events and are not involved in structural changes in our communities. They come, oftentimes to show face. Groups like #ItsBiggerThanYou, Dream Defenders, Ferguson Action and Black Lives Matter are the ones people should be connecting to and building with. Everyone gets caught up with public figures, and it's understandable. Still, if every black person treated, supported and respected their brother and sister as they do celebrities, we could change the world. If we supported our black-owned businesses, especially our black visual artists, we could cripple an economic system that was created to keep many of us below the poverty line. Just as Dr. Sonia Sanchez once said, "The black artist is dangerous. Black art controls the 'Negro's' reality, negates negative influences and creates positive images." Black art resists the white-dominated art world and speaks back to a tradition that says black people are not fully human. Black Art was Worldstar before Worldstar was Worldstar. It was and still is the shock value and black commentary that will drag you to the antebellum South and race you to the Afrofuture.
6. Though Edmund Pettus was the Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan, his name should stay on that bridge, for now.
If the state of Alabama cannot take it upon itself to change the name of the bridge from Edmund Pettus to something else, then why should we care? In the most subtle ways we are reminded that black people are still hated in this country. A motel named "Plantation Inn," a billboard honoring the Ku Klux Klan's first Grand Wizard, Nathan Forrest. The billboard says "Keep the Skeer [scare] on 'em," referring to the Confederate's enemy, the Union. We cannot allow this pretense of a post-racial world to make us feel that changing the name of a bridge is going to make our world better. By the way, where's Pettus' grave so I can spit and Frank Underwood it?
The information and connections the Boston2Selma group made in Selma are priceless. I witnessed the good, bad and ugly conditions of my people and it is now that I can truly identify ways to remove anything that threatens our existence in America and alleviate what the lack of justice has caused: A damaged, yet powerful people. It is not possible to visit Selma, cross the Edmund Pettus bridge, and return home the same.
To the next fifty years. Peace!
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