We Shall Overcome... Someday

08/14/2017 01:00 am ET Updated Aug 14, 2017

The first time I sang “We Shall Overcome” — and every time since — I have cried. I tend to hold things in — hold thoughts, ideas, and feelings inside in an attempt to make sense of them (and myself) first, before sharing or grieving with the world. On Saturday January 21, 2017, I sang, I cried, and I cried out, and I was not alone. Today, on Sunday August 13, 2017, I cried as I listened.

The first time I sang “We Shall Overcome” was in the late 1990s, in a University of Virginia classroom in Charlottesville, Virginia, alongside 250 other college students and conducted by our professor and civil rights activist, Julian Bond. There was and is something about those words — their suggestion of hope in a world burdened by inhumanity — and in that moment, and several moments since, I was both vulnerable and powerful, overwhelmed by emotion, strength, and history.

On January 21, 2017, alongside friends and hundreds of THOUSANDS of others, we marched for hope. Armed with signs and our voices, we peacefully proclaimed our solidarity, our belief in love over hate, our insistence to be equal in human rights. Waves of cheers and chants washed through the crowds in DC, and at one moment a woman marching in front of me began to sing. Hers was only one voice, but it was strong. I joined in:

We shall overcome…

We are not afraid…

We walk hand in hand…

We shall live in peace…


I cried. I choked back some tears, let others fall, squeaked my voice through the emotion. Others joined in song, not many, not loudly. Still, the words, the song, the emotion, the history, the burden, and the hope was there. I never saw the woman’s face. She had remembered the power of the words and the movement, and so she sang. I sang, too. As one of the millions of other marchers around the world, we lifted our voices, raised our arms, and declared in body and spirit that we shall overcome…someday.

Someday has not yet come. On Friday August 11, 2017, I was not in Charlottesville, Virginia when hundreds of unmasked white supremacists marched with torches through the campus that was my home for four years. Emboldened by a fear-mongering president they helped get into office—himself, a man too fearful to denounce this white nationalist voting bloc—these mostly young, white men marched unashamed, rallying for white power. Yet, standing at the foot of a Thomas Jefferson statue and surrounded by hundreds of neo-Nazis who lit up the night with their torches of terror, a small group of students resisted with a banner, “VA Students Act Against White Supremacy.” On Saturday, the white supremacists were met by a larger number of counter-protestors, and the demonstration ended even before it officially began, but not before a life was taken and many were injured.

To stand up against such hate and show solidarity with Charlottesville, thousands of people rallied for peace in towns small and large in the days that followed. Watching a video of a local peace vigil, once again, I was overcome with emotion. I cried as I listened: “We shall overcome…We are not afraid…We walk hand in hand...We shall live in peace…Someday.” Yes, someday. But someday has not yet arrived, and until it does we must continue to stand up, resist every act of hate big and small, question systems of privilege and power, and show our children and the world that someday, yes, someday we shall overcome.