This blog post is going to be quite verbose, but if you only ever read one of my postings the whole way through, I beg it be this one. In the short life of Sweet Tea and Small Talk this is the most important one I have yet to write.
Many of us have bucket lists full of amazing things that we want to do and or accomplish. Some of the things may be trivial to others and some of them probably appear on multiple people’s lists. I have been able to cross a couple of things off my list in my 29 trips around the sun – including swimming with dolphins and traveling abroad to some of the most beautiful places on Earth with friends, family, and even students. One thing that has been on my list since high school has been to be part of a protest movement. I have always gravitated towards those momentous events in our history as humans because they have fascinated me and being a part of a group that has faced systematic oppession multiple times throughout history, I have always felt a sense of community with people who participate in these movements.
I know how that might sound or look. I can already feel your head tilting and your eyes narrowing a bit. I do not by any means want to trivialize the March for our lives or any other movements that this country has seen. I do not want it to seem like I am protesting or marching just to be able to say I was there. I simply at the end of my life want to be able to mean it when I look my God in the face and say I have tried to love my neighbor as myself.
Many times while reading and learning about these heroes I have wondered had I been alive at that time would I have been a part of it myself. I am not foolish enough to think I could ever have led a movement – I am not brave enough or disciplined enough for that. But I do hope that I would have stood up for my fellow man and said “Enough! No More! This is not right! We Shall Overcome!” This is why it will be an honor and a privledge when I look back on my life to have been able to be a part of Greenville’s March for Our Lives march through Downtown Greenville. Our March was led by some amazing young people who were inspired by some other amazing young people from Parkland, Florida. The world is better because they are in it, and they are taking up the leadership role many were born for.
City Police for the event estimate that 2,000 people attended the Greenville, March for Our Lives. What is truly amazing about the event is it was led completely by students. Several college students and about a dozen amazing high schools (one of which goes to the school where I teach, and one who goes to the school where I used to teach) worked with local organizations and planned everything from the March down to who was speaking – shoutout to the young lady from Mauldin who had quite the message for our governor Henry McMaster. I have offically dubbed her Greenville’s own Emma Gonzalez. What has please me the most about the march was how positive and uplifting it was. Everyone was positive in spirt; the counter-protesters were ignored and although we were marching for a serious reason there was love and positivity in the atmosphere -especially as we sang “We Shall Overcome.” My eyes filled with tears at one point during Greenville City Councilwoman Lillian Brock Fleming’s speech. Here is a woman who literally sang that very song with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. urging my students and so many other student to pick up the torch and continue their movement into the future. It will go down in my life as a very sepcial moment, that was again, a honor and a privilege to be a part of. Our little march was even featured on MSNBC at one point during their coverage – #YeahTHATGreenville that we know and love!¹
The March in Greenville went off without a hitch and that is because of the courage, bravery, and determination of some
amazing BAD ASS students. Students like Gonzalez. Students like David Hogg. Students like Cameron Kasky. Like Alex Wind. And Jaclyn Corin. And Matt Post. These bravery of these students is inspiring, but their willingness to openly accept the privilege that their skin color provides them is even more inspiring. Many of them freely admit that the affluent, upper middle class, and white backgrounds has led to increased media coverage of an issue that disproportionately affects communities of color every day. That is why it was so important to them to make sure communities of color were well represented in the speakers of the March. 11 year old Naomi Wadler spoke more eloquently than I could every hope to write in this blog about speaking for all of the girls of color who face down the barrel of a gun more than anyone. And when Jaclyn Corin brought out the granddaughter of Dr. King who said she had a dream that enough is enough my eyes that had been brimming with tears all day bowled over. Those were wonderful moments, but David and Emma hold my top moments for the day.
I love the moment in David Hogg’s speech where he boldly states something those of us on the right side of history already know. The people in power our shaking. And they shood be. If they get in our way we will get in theirs. And we will vote. Vote them right out of office and into the unemployment line.
It comes as no suprise that Emma Gonzalez spoke last. She has been the most visible and vocal spokesperson since this whole movement began. While many think she and Hogg and the others are capitalizing on this for fame (the NRA has disgustingly said they wish more of their friends had died) I truly believe they would give all of the attention back for an instance of normalcy in their last year of high school. A year that should be spent getting ready for prom and buying supplies for college. If you havent seen Emma Gonzalez’s speech you must watch it. She spoke for only 2 minutes. And then she filled the TV screen with 4 minutes and 20 seconds of dead air.
Why did she stand there in silence for almost 5 minutes? The answer is simple, and heartbreaking, and goosebumping-giving: 380 seconds. 6 minutes and 20 seconds. That is how long it took for the Stoneman shooter² to take the lives of 17 innocent people in yet another school. 6 minutes and 20 seconds and those 17 people “would never” again. Gonzalez last words should speak to every high school student in every school in every district in America: “Fight for your lives. Before it is someone else’s job.” As she walked defiantly away from the stage, I started crying once again. This time it was tears of joy. As long as these students keep going, I know they will be successful. I only pray that that don’t lose faith or give up the fight.
I was going to end the blog here, but I got to thinking about the power of the silence that Gonzalez provided us with for almost four-and-a-half minutes. It reminded me of one of the greatest songs of all time – in my opinion of course: Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence. Although the song has mysterious origins (Simon & Grafunkel have never truly said how it came to be) most people believe it was written in response to JFK’s assasination. It became a pivotal song during the 1960s counter culture movement and I love how haunting the lyrics are. It also plays a pivotal role in the 2006 Emilio Estevez-directed film Bobby, a film about the assasination of RFK, JFK’s younger brother.
If you have never seen it, the film is brilliantly done. There is no actor playing Bobby Kennedy. The film is more about the people who are touched by Bobby Kennedy’s assassination than the woulda-been President. The final few minutes as Bobby is shot by Sirhan Sirhan, as panic envelops the Ambassador Hotel, the scene is played out brilliantly by actors like Helen Hunt, Elijah Wood, Martin Sheen, Nick Canon, and Lindsay Lohan.
One of the parting thoughts I want to leave you with are the words of an actual speech that Bobby Kennedy gave on violence. While I cannot find the exact date of the speech is rings true now more than ever. Kennedy says he wants to:
…speak briefly to you about the menace of violence in America, which again stains our lands and everyone of our lives. It is not the concern of any one race. The victims of violence are black and white. Rich and poor. Young and old. Famous and unknown. They are most important of all, human beings, loved and needed by other human beings. Noone, no matter where he lives or what he does, can be certain who next will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on and on in this country of ours. Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has violence ever created? Whenever any American’s life has been taken by another American unnecessarily, whether it is done in defiance of the law, or in the name of the law. Whether it is done by a gang in cold blood. Or in passion….. Whenever we tear at the fabric of our lives…. Whenever we do this, the whole nation is degraded. Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence, that ignores our common hummanity….”
As I rewatched that scene over the weekend it left my eyes once again tear stained. Few families have as public a history with gun violence in this nation as the Kennedy family, and the prophetic nature of Robert Francis Kennedy’s words should strike us all over the head in today’s society. It speaks to the current issues we are failing to fix all too well: The rise of gangs. The rise of police brutality and police killing of innocent people. The rise of us losing our shared humanity and existence on this planet. We would all do well to reflect on Kennedy’s words in the coming weeks. This writer knows he will, and he hopes you will join him.
I want to leave you with one final thought that a lifelong church family friend (shoutout to Mama Wannamacher) left me with. They are not her words, and they are not my words. They are the words of the real environmentalist and activist and woman who would be so proud of the students who attend the high school named after her. They are the words of Marjory Stoneman Douglas: “Be a nuisance when it counts. Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join action. Be depressed, and discouraged, and disapppointed at failure & the disheartening effects of ignorance and bad politics – but do not ever give up!”
Join me friends. I don’t plan on giving up. I hope you wont either. Never Again, because Enough is ENOUGH.
¹Video Credits for the video showing us on MSNBC go to Meghan Byrd. She, unlike me, was actually smart enough to remember to record the coverage of the March. Thanks Meghan!
²Any Time this writer makes postings related to mass shootings, he will never mention the perpertrator of those vile atrocities by names. I will play no part in furthering the infamy that they so desparately desire.