My brother, Danny, recently reminded me of the time my father took us both to the front of a picket line. I was two, my brother was six. It was 1959. My father was an activist and that day he was gonna show his two boys just how daddy did it. We watched as he took me off his shoulders and let go of Danny's hand, and decided to lay down in protest in front a moving bulldozer. Luckily for us he was just arrested and not run over. We learned the value of standing up for what you believe in from our parents. The three of us brothers (Danny, Joseph and I) were incredibly lucky to come from a background that encouraged creative expression. Many people during the time of my childhood were not so lucky. As we grew up in Queens, our experience during the civil rights movement was much different than those growing up in the deep South.
It took the courage of Rosa and Martin and Malcolm and the deaths of Medgar and Emmett and Bobby to set our people free. These were the heroes we read about, these were the heroes we spoke about, these were the heroes we remember. But there were so many other unsung heroes along the way, many of whom were so beautifully and painfully captured in the upcoming movie, The Help. When I saw this film I was reminded that it took the courage of giants to make way for ordinary citizens to speak up against the injustices that plagued our nation. We must remember that on December 1, 1955 Rosa Parks was just a tired department store worker not looking to make any trouble on her bus ride home from work. An ordinary citizen with a lot of courage. Just like Rosa Parks, the women depicted in The Help were tired of being beaten down for their whole lives, that they came to a point where enough was enough. And instead of refusing to get out of their seat on the bus ride home, they told their stories of what it was like to be a third class citizen in a first world nation, to a local white reporter who published them in what became a best selling book. The Help is a remarkable film, not just because of the superb storytelling and the amazing acting, but more important than that, it taps into the essence of what makes our country great, courage.
It was the courage of a young group of revolutionaries who crossed the Delaware River on Christmas night not knowing if this would cost them the war against the British. It was the courage of a black woman who escaped slavery and would later return to rescue over 70 slaves using a network of safe houses and passages known as the Underground Railroad. It was the courage of a preacher from Atlanta and a minister from Detroit who would give voice to an entire race of people and beyond. It was the courage of an openly gay mayor from San Francisco who propelled the gay rights movement forward. We have stood on the shoulders of these heroes and she-roes. We have built our democracy from their courage and their commitment to freedom. We have replayed their stories over and over in our heads. We have been inspired by their greatness. That is exactly how I felt when I saw The Help. The courage of greatness. Don't miss this movie.