I believe that I was born at the right time. I was in high school during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, and could not help but be exposed to the sit-ins, marches, and the moving leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr.
LOOK and LIFE magazines were my windows to the stories and events. The magazines were full of pictures of what was happening. As I look back, their titles really said it all. LOOK – look at what is happening down South. But we probably needed to look at how the movement was impacting our lives. LIFE – This was how people were living – getting fire hosed, bitten by vicious dogs, and their houses being bombed. It was witnessing a life of intense fear.
During my sophomore year I joined the Forensics Club, my school’s Speech Club. I entered into the oratory section. I can’t remember if the nuns gave me the speech entitled “Why?” or if I chose it. The theme was why is there a Jim Crow south. Why is there segregation? So I spent my Saturday mornings traveling around Johnstown, Pennsylvania in a bus presenting my speech in competition with 6 or 7 other students. Portage. Altoona. Derry. Greensburg. West Mifflin near Pittsburgh. We went into barren classrooms and stood up front with the judges in the back.
Sometimes i got first and other times second or honorable mention. I wanted to present it with all of the feeling and conviction that was possible for a teen girl. Eventually the speech became a part of me –why, why are people being treated like this because of the color of their skin?
In the competition for two years, I was always looking at magazines and TV to learn about the Civil Rights movement and making it connect to my speech. For my senior year thesis I chose to write about Malcolm X and the Black Muslims. I know the nuns were a bit alarmed about the topic. I imagine them calling my parents, forewarning of a daughter who would become a flaming revolutionary.
I’ll always remember that February afternoon, 1965 when Malcolm X was shot. I was home from nursing school, having dinner with my family. It was like I remembered where I was when President Kennedy was shot. Unfortunately for my generation, two more assassinations of very important people were yet to happen.
I believe that I was lucky to be born when I was. The Civil Rights moevement imprinted on me the need for human rights for all.
The night that Barack Obama won in Iowa, I couldn’t sleep, excited about his win and the young people involved in his campaign. They too are being stirred into history, making a decision to follow truth.
I believe that each and every one of us is propelled into the history of the moment. We have the choice to take what is happening; grab it; and work to make a better world for all of us.
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