Dear Jo, An Open Letter to J.K. Rowling

b38a75aec6.pngIt seems weird to be writing you for the first time, because I feel like I have known you for far longer – 20 years to be exact. Even though I haven’t written before, I wanted to take a second to write you now and say two things. The first one of those would be Happy Birthday to both you and to Harry! I hope today is as magical for you as the series has been to me.

The second thing I wanted to say is far less easier to put into words so please forgive me if I ramble- I am far less eloquent with words than you are. It would be impossible for me to truly tell you what the magic of Harry Potter has brought to my life, the lives of my brothers, and so many other people we care about. My only hope with this letter is to give you the smallest of ideas as to how much your world has influenced us in becoming the people we are today.

20 years ago I was a overly dramatic 9 year old who knew nothing about the world of Harry Potter. It was not until 2 years later when the second book came out that a family friend who was an elementary school teacher recommended the book series to me. As 11 year old Harry was introduced to life at Hogwarts I was being introduced to life with him. Over the past two decades I have relished the book release parties, movie premieres, Harry Potter Trivia competitions, quidditch tournaments, and debates about which death was the hardest to take (for the record, I still have not forgiven you for the death of Dobby). I have two sets of the series – my original copies and my updated copies. My original copies are so dog-eared worn that many are falling apart at the seems. Every time I open up the covers of those original copies and see the handwritten notes from my grandmother and great aunt (they bought me most of my originals) it brings a smile to my face.

Just like Harry, there have been ups and downs in my life. I have been through the loss of loved ones, fights with my best friends, first loves, and becoming an adult. The one constant in my life throughout all of that has been the beautifully magical escape that you brought to the world. Growing up as Harry grew up we often faced difficulties at the same time, but there were many times when Harry faced something before I did. Being lucky enough to have all 4 grandparents until the age of 26 I had not experienced the death of someone I loved deeply like Harry had. I struggled at first with his death, but not long after I re-read The Prisoner of Azkaban for the umpteenth time. When I read the quote from Dumbledore below, it changed my outlook and allowed me to move on through my grieving process. you-think-the-dead-we-loved-ever-truly-leave-1

My brothers and I have many similarities and many differences in our lives. Being 4 years older than one and 6 years older than the other we didn’t have very many similar interests all at the same time other than swim team and Harry Potter. Even in our love of Harry Potter we are different from one another. I was sorted into Slytherin. My middle brother was sorted into Gryffindor and my oldest brother was sorted into Hufflepuff. We playfully tease each other about our houses, but when I look the characteristics that make up each of the houses, they oddly match each of us perfectly. My middle brother is strong and has quite a bit of nerve while my youngest brother is kind, loyal, and hardworking. I was originally disappointed with my sorting into Slytherin, but as I have aged two things have changed. With age has come my view that ambition, cunningness, and self-preservation were not traits that had to be viewed as deceitful or negative, but traits that had be used in the right way for the right purpose. Sirius was a shining example of how our life’s choice can define the type of person we become.

 

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As a teacher, Harry Potter speaks to me on another personal level as well. The school I teach at has students who face socio-economic difficult situations on a daily basis. Many students are dealing with situations that would leave me curled up on the floor in the fetal position. But those same students come to school and work hard. In the world you created, education is important and many of my kids know that. I am inspired by them and their accomplishments on a daily basis. It is the reason I get out of bed in the morning and it is the reason I work so hard to make my classroom and my school exactly what Hogwarts was to Harry – a safe, warm, and inviting home that will always welcome them. You have also provided me with the easiest proof of a lesson I have to teach far too often. Many high school students today use profanity far to often. I think it is because it makes them feel grown up or cool. Each time I hear the words used in a flippant manner I always tell my students the same thing: save those words for when you really mean it, because if you use them all the time the word has no weight behind it. When they look at me puzzled all I do is describe the battle of Hogwarts and tell them Mrs. Weasley’s now infamous line. I tell them part of the reason it is so remembered and known is because it is one of the only times I can remember in the series that there is a word that is considered “profanity.” (and if you don’t tell my principal I will secretly tell you that I play the clip for them on YouTube).

In my early twenties, I would have other coworkers or friends who are muggles ask why I was so obsessed with Harry Potter. The verbosity that flowed through my lips was so quick and so loud that I am sure few people could understand what I was saying. After I would calm down and tell them as plain as I could. Harry Potter at this point has been a part of my life longer than he has not. He has taught me many great lessons. And most importantly, he has taken me on a great adventure. When I was done, some people would get it, and some people would not – and that is ok because I don’t need them to understand. I know what it has meant to me, and so does Harry. And that is enough.

Before I go I did want to say one more thing. The world we presently live in is not always the world we wished it was. Sometimes the world we occupy is sad, and frightening, and mean, and cruel, and unjust. If there is one thing the people of Harry Potter have done time and time again it is speak up and speak out against those things. Time and time again I watched the characters of Harry Potter do this. I watched Sirius do it by going against his own family. Neville did it time and time again when he stood up to his friends. Albus Dumbledore did it against the wizarding government. Severus Snape sacrificed his life for it. In addition to these important people, I have watched time and time again as you continue to speak out and speak up against the injustices of our world and those who seek to further it. Watching you speak up against the travesty that is my country’s president at the moment and other important causes has given me and so many others the courage to find our own voice and speak out. You have given us permission to use our voices as our wands to bring light to the darkness and those trapped by it.

After 20 years together saying thank you doesn’t feel like enough. It feels so inadequate, but I have nothing else to give, and I know you wouldn’t want it even if I did. You have given this muggle world far more magic than it sometimes deserves. In  another 20 years you can expect another letter from me to build on this one. God willing, if I live another twenty after that you can expect a third letter. And just like Dumbledore asked Snape, people who don’t understand will look and ask “After all that time?” My response will be the same as the response Severus gave – ALWAYS!

With great love and admiration,

Wynne Boliek

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The Chosen Family that Pride Built

This is the First Post in a series of posts that will run throughout the month of June. June has been Pride Month for many years. To honor that history, I will be talking about different aspects of why I am proud during Pride Month.

I have been unbelievably blessed in my life when it comes to the people who make up my family. I really do believe I won the family lottery that the universe put on before I was born. My immediate family includes my two parents and two younger brothers, but when I say “my family” I mean the extended family. The aunts, uncles, cousins, and extended familial relationships as well. For the most part, they all live within a day’s drive from where I live, we all get along really well, and we love each other. But this post is not about that family. My biological or blood family. They know I love them beyond words already anyways. This post is about the pride that I find in my chosen family.

You might be slightly confused by the phrase chosen family (partially because you more than likely do not have one) so allow me to explain. Some people in the LGBTQ community have a biological family and a chosen family. Sadly, there are many people in my community that only have a chosen family. There is not one academically agreed upon definition but in the most basic sense, a chosen family is a group of individuals who deliberately choose one another to play significant roles in each other’s lives. It is a group of people whom you are emotionally attached to that you love and consider ‘family’ even though you are not biologically or legally related to one another.

I am sure many of you have friends that you consider “they might as well be family.” Down here in the south we call them “Back Door Friends.” But Chosen families in the queer community are more than just your best friends or the friends you are closest to. They validate our very existence as a community. As individuals who want to be seen and heard and told they matter. In ancient Greece, there were many types of love; Eros would be love between people who are in a committed relationship and Agape would be an unconditional love from God. The reason chosen families are so important is that they combine two types of this love in philia, a friendship or fondness type of love, with storge, a familial love. Chosen families became a sense of strength within the LGBTQ community and they remain a pillar of pride in this community to this day.

Chosen families arose from the necessity of being part of the LGBTQ community. In our community’s past, many were told by their families, or churches, or schools, that they were no longer welcome. We became outcasts in our own blood families. Many LGBTQ kids were kicked out of their homes. It is why the queer community has a disproportionately large share of homelessness – especially within queer youth. Personally, I will never understand how a parent can cast out their child or a sibling can turn its back on a sibling; To me, that is an unforgivable sin that you will never be able to justify (but that is a story for a different blog). When these outcasts of society had nobody to turn to for love, guidance, and the sheer acknowledgment that they existed, they turned to themselves. They replaced biological mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers with their chosen alternatives. They cared for each other while they were sick. They loved each other when they hurt. They buried each other when they started to die from AIDS. They did everything that their blood family was supposed to do. That is how chosen families were born in a community forced to take care of one another when nobody else would.

The majority of the time the people in the chosen families we created were fellow members of the queer community (although they do not have to be – allies are always welcome). The shared loss of their blood families served as a common thread uniting people. Feelings of sadness and loss give way to strength and love. One of the things I love about the queer community is the resiliency of my brothers and sisters who are also part of it. A self-created family becomes a support system that allows people to continually go out into a world that continually puts them down. In some cases it allows people to do more than just go – it allows them to thrive and prove everyone who doubted them wrong.

Chosen families can be known, but more often than not they are unknown or known simply by the people who make up that family. Some of these chosen families have become famous or well-known throughout the world. In the Voguing and Ball Culture that developed in New York City, these families are known as houses and they were often named after famous fashion brands (House of St. Laurent, House of LeBeija, etc.). They would often have a “mother” and/or “father” who functioned as the parent of their “children.” These chosen families are especially close-knit and exclusive. They consider it an honor and a privilege to be asked to be part of their family. Other chosen families are more inclusive and not quite as bougie.

While pulling up next to a car the other day I had my windows down and sunroof up while B93.7 was playing while a Dua Lipa song was playing on the radio. A few seconds I hear “YES QUEEN!” come from the car next to me. I blushed and looked over embarrassed someone called me out on my dancing, but that feeling immediately disappeared. One shared look between me and the black man driving it I had never met told me he was part of the queer community and that was an exclamation of agreement and not ridicule. He turned up his volume as he pulled away. I smiled as I heard Dua Lipa fade off into the sunset. In a way, he is part of the extended larger chosen family that falls under the LGBTQ umbrella. If you have never seen us communicate with just a facial expression, it is hard to describe. With just a look we almost tell people, “I see you.” We see the authentic you. The fabulous you who loves jamming to bad ass diva songs.

I started building my chosen family in high school and it has never stopped growing. I don’t share blood with these people, but I don’t have to – we share something more powerful than that. Most people don’t understand, but it is easier to tell someone you consider an acquaintance than it is to tell your family. Most of it stems from the fear of rejection. It hurts less to be cast aside by someone you have known for a semester than it does by someone whose blood courses through your veins. The clip below is one of the most famous scenes from an episode of Rupaul’s Drag Race. Every episode ends with the 2 drag queens who did the worst having to lip synch and the bottom queen is eliminated. I left the lip synch in because it is one of the greatest in the herstory of the show, but the important part is what happens at the end. Watch and listen to what Rupaul says to Roxxy Andrews story.

I have been incredibly blessed in this life. I have never experienced the pain that Roxxy Andrews suffered. My family loves me unconditionally. Through the good and the bad. Growing up I always knew that they would never stop loving me, but for those of you who have never had to work through how to accept yourself in a society where you are not looked at as an equal, telling your family is the hardest part. My chosen family helped me work through feelings my blood family could not because my chosen family had already experienced what I was feeling. The very first time I went to the dinky LGBT club in my city I was a hot mess. It was exhilarating and terrifying all at once. I was so nervous I bumped into someone and made them spill their drink. A drag queen named Robin came to my rescue and diffused this situation. The instant addition to my chosen family always greeted me with a shot and a hug once I got there. She is passed on now, but I know we will meet again in the next life. It will be easy to find her there anyways – “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” will be blaring from her cloud up in the great beyond.

We love to share our joys and triumphs with our families. I am lucky enough I get to do it twice. I have found many times when we hurt in this life we want to be with our family. I have found a subtle difference in the way the two families deal with hurt. Blood family wants to do something. They want to take the pain away somehow. They want to fix what is broken. This is both admirable and helpful sometimes; My real family has always been there for me when times are good or bad. But sometimes you need the love that your chosen family gives you when you are hurt. Sometimes chosen families try to do something, but more often than not I have found my chosen family won’t do anything but be there. Just simply showing up, acknowledging your hurt, and giving you permission to hurt however you want is the most cathartic and loving thing they do.

My blood family has given me more than I could ever ask or dream for. In a different way, my chosen family has as well. My chosen family has picked me up when I was utterly broken: working through break up with my first real love, losing my grandfather a couple of years ago, and episodes of self-doubt would have been impossible to deal with without them. They have also cheered, and yelled with me at some awesome high points: Witnessing my first pride parade, my first trip to San Francisco, and teaching me to vogue the house down will be experiences and memories that I will cherish for the rest of this life time and all of the next. They have changed my life simply because I have known them. I love them. And I chose them. But more importantly, they chose me. And for that, I am luckier than I ever possibly thought I could be.

Here’s to all the chosen families all across the world. This one is for you. Happy Pride!

-WB

 

 

Happy Birthday, Harvey Milk- The Hero Who Gave Us Hope

Today would have been the 98th birthday of Harvey Milk. For the average American, that might not mean anything to you. You may not even know who Harvey Milk was. But to the LGBTQ+ community, Harvey Milk is a hero, an icon, and a martyr for the cause of LGBTQ rights. Harvey Milk was the first openly gay elected official in the United States. He was elected to the San Francisco Board of City Supervisors in 1977. 11 Months after his election, Milk was assassinated by a fellow member of the Board of Supervisors. The Mayor of San Francisco was also assassinated. In the few years before his election and his short time in public office, Milk became the Hero of Hope to the gay community.

harvey-milk_happybirthdayI am a history teacher. I am the person who was more excited to register to vote than I was to go buy a pack of cigarettes. I follow politics and current events so much that I can see my family tune out as soon as I open my mouth about politics 97% of the time. You would think I would have learned about Harvey Milk at a young age, but this could not be farther from the truth. I did not learn about Harvey Milk until 2008 as a freshman in college. It wasn’t a history book I have to think for teaching me about Harvey Milk either. History books in this nation leave out the stories and struggles of minority groups far too often. The people I have to thank for acquainting me with Harvey Milk are Dustin Lance Black, Gus Van Sant, and Sean Penn. Yes, you heard me correctly. I said the Academy Award winning actor Sean Penn.

In 2008 Sean Penn won an Oscar for playing Harvey Milk in the film titled Milk. The film was written by Dustin Lance Black (who you might have seen in the news for being the boyfriend and now husband of British diver Tom Daley) and directed by Gus Van Sant. Black and Van Sant are openly gay and both were nominated for their work on Milk. Black won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. His acceptance speech is less than 3 minutes in length and it changed my life.

At the 2009 Academy Awards, Milk was one of the few films that I As I watched the Gay Super Bowl Oscars that year, Black’s speech left me in disbelief. Yes this is a ceremony filled with people who are stereotypically liberal leaning in their political beliefs. But seldom are people so blatantly plain in their speeches. Here was a rather handsome man telling me that very soon LGBTQ+ people who have equal federal rights across this nation. And wouldn’t you know it – he was right!

 

Not having seen the movie, I googled the film and was astounded I had never heard of Harvey Milk, his story, or the film before the Oscars that night. A second google let me know I could pay $2 and watch the film at The Astro Theater in Downtown Clemson, SC. The Astro was Clemson’s version of a dollar theater. It typically showed films that had already been out for a month or so. It did not look like much on the inside, but I loved it for the historic charm it had. I skipped a science lab to go the next night. To this day, I don’t regret that decision.

 

 

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There were 4 other people in the theater that night. All 4 of those people were part of “the family.” We did not sit together and we did not know each other, but I had seen some of them in passing on campus before. I could effuse compliments about Milk until I am purple in the face so I will not go on and on about how much I love it. I will simply say that film changed my life and I will be forever grateful for the real Harvey Milk’s message of Hope and advocacy that are shown in the film. As the lights came on I tried to wipe the tears off my face. I started to get embarrassed until I saw the other 4 people were doing the exact same thing. Although I never became more than Facebook friends with any of the other 4 people, each time we saw each other in passing on campus, we would always nod and smile at each other. We shared a form of ourselves that evening that we had not shared with many people up until that point. The older I get the more I think certain things in this universe are connected. Call it God, or Karma, or my personal favorite juju. There was a shared connection between us and Harvey Milk that night. And it was life changing.

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The publicity poster from the film. The entire cast is phenomenal. 

This was the first film I had ever seen that depicted multiple main characters who were LGBTQ in a positive light. It is the first film I had seen that showed the power of my community when we stood up and advocated for ourselves – when we fought back against the people and politicians who sought to silence us and belittle us. The film goes through much of Milk’s adult life. It shows a closeted Milk living in New York City and keeping his sexuality a secret and follows parts of his life up until his assassination. Milk later moves to San Francisco in the 1970s. San Francisco became a haven for gay men in the 60s and 70s and Milk opened Castro Camera on Castro Street in the city. He lost his first election for the Board of Supervisors, but he quickly became a uniting force in “The Castro” – the area of the city made famous by the Castro Theater and the district with the largest concentration of gay people.

Once San Francisco moved away from at-large districts to area based districts Milk easily won in the heavy LGBT Castro District. Harvey Milk was a bridge builder. He united minority communities of all types and advocated for those groups regularly as part of the Board. He was instrumental in helping the city pass a gay rights ordinance at a time when many other cities were passing ordinances and ballot indicatives which were extremely anti-LGBTQ in nature. Milk was passionate in his belief that only by people in the LGBTQ community coming out and acknowleding their sexuality to their friends and family would opinions on LGBTQ people change for the better. Milk said :

Gay people, we will not win our rights by staying quietly in our closets. … We are coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions. We are coming out to tell the truths about gays, for I am tired of the conspiracy of silence, so I’m going to talk about it. And I want you to talk about it. You must come out.

Sadly Harvey Milk would not live to see his beliefs become reality. He was taken by the bullets of an assassin in his office in city hall. In the video below, you will see US Senator Dianne Feinstein announce the deaths of both Moscone and Milk. If it looks like Feinstein is confused she has good reason to be. She just identified the bodies of both Milk and Moscone to police. As she tried to feel a pulse on Harvey Milk’s neck, she stuck her fingers into the hole left by the bullet that hit Milk in the neck.

White was a disgruntled former member of the board who had resigned, but wanted his seat back. both Moscone and Milk opposed putting White back on the board. White snuck into city hall, shot the mayor in his office before walking to Milk’s office and shooting him 4 times. White was arrested later that day. In response to the shooting, thousands of people from across San Francisco rushed and descended upon the Castro that evening. They marched silently with candles in a spontaneous memorial vigil in honor of Milk. To this day, it remains one of the most beautifully eloquent responses to an act of violence that this world has ever seen.

White was convicted months later of voluntary manslaughter for both killings and was sentenced to just 7 years in prison of which he only served 5. After the lenient sentencing was announced, the outrage in the LGBTQ community led to several nights of rioting throughout San Francisco in what have since become known as The White Night Riots. Harvey Milk’s friend and another icon in the gay community, Cleve Jones, led the way from the Castro towards city hall shouting “Out of the bars and into the streets!” By the time they reached city hall a thousand people were ready to riot. This is the impact that Harvey Milk had on the gay community. For a community that so often felt lost, alone, and vilified by the rest of the world, Harvey Milk was and still is a beacon of hope. The harbinger of hope was and still is a martyr for the movement. That movement is ongoing and we won’t stop until we accomplish what Milk set out to accomplish.

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Milk was featured on a US Postal Stamp in 2014. You can still order it on the Post Office Website.

I have always felt a connection to Harvey Milk – but in more ways than just the obvious one. Harvey milk taught at one point and while in California he was one of the driving forces behind the defeat of Proposition 6, which was an initiative on the California ballot that would have banned gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools. I have always believed that the LGBTQ community if far too concerned with their “own” letter in the acronym. As long as the L or the G part got their rights then who cares about the T or the Q? Harvey Milk knew that the only way for us to succeed was to help each other – and that included other oppressed minority groups as well. Lastly, and perhaps the most tragically of the connections, I was born on the tenth anniversary of Milk’s assassination. I find it somehow comforting in a weird way that a day that brings pain and anguish for many, brought happiness and joy to my family (or at least I think it brought them happiness and joy).

Hope will never be silent. As long as people have hope, they will always be capable of rising above the circumstances that life throws at them. Where there is hope, there is the undeniable chance that the human spirit will win out over despair. Over fear. Over anger. Over hate. The story of Harvey Milk was a pivotal turning point in my life. It changed a fundamental part of the person that I am today. The story of Harvey Milk saved Dustin Lance Black’s life, and it will continue to save the lives of countless people – but only if it is told. At the conclusion of his Oscar acceptance speech Black ends by thanking God for giving us Harvey Milk. I thank God for giving us people like Black, and Van Sant, and Penn who were brave enough to fight to have the story of Harvey Milk told. And yes after thanking God for them, I too thank God for Harvey Milk. Happy Birthday, Harvey Milk. Thank you for your sacrifice. And Thank you for the gift of hope.

-WB

imageTo learn more about Harvey Milk, go to The Harvey Milk Foundation website. The Milk foundation was founded by Milk’s nephew, Stuart Milk, and his former campaign manager, Anne Kronenberg, and it seeks to continue to strive for Milk’s dream of a better tomorrow – a tomorrow in which there is equality for all and a world without hate.

Marching, Bobby, and The Sound of Silence

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.

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I had a two-sided sign. This was my humorous side. The other side was more serious – which is why I was holding that one facing the direction we walked.

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.

Author’s Notes

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.

Stephen Hawking: A Life “To Infinity, and Beyond!”

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Stephen Hawking experiences zero gravity over the Atlantic. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

If there ever was a man who lived a life that truly lived every day by the motto we all remember from our high school english classes “Carpe Diem.” that man was Stephen Hawking. Although I agree, Hawking did live his remarkable life by that motto, I feel like a more appropriate motto for Hawking would be one from our old Pixar friend Buzz Lightyear: “To Infinity and Beyond.” In my humble opinion, this is far more fitting of man man who sought to understand the universe and the world we live in – and defied that universe and world by continuing to survive in a world that deemed it impossible for him thrive, let alone survive.

I was saddened when I woke up to the news of the passing of Stephen Hawking earlier this week. I have always been someone who loves an underdog story and while he might not argue it himself, many of us would have put Hawking squarely in the underdog box. What surprised me the most about his passing, however, was definitely my students knowledge of his death at the age of 76. What would my students know about a theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author of note when I am pretty sure most of them can’t even spell the word physicist?¹

I teach high school freshman (typically 14-15 year olds for those unfamiliar with the American public school system) and although the narrative that teenagers of that age are self-absorbed and only care about themselves is dangerously misinformed, pieces of that narrative ring true every now and then. I was confused as to how they would know about Stephen Hawking, someone who refused a knighthood from the British government over their funding (or lack thereof) in the late 1990s? The answer was so simple that I immediately wanted to punch myself for trying to knit with only one needle. I could almost hear Mr. Hawking’s distinct computer-generated voice saying “Bless your heart.”

My students are familiar with Stephen Hawking because, like millions of other people all over this country, they watch The Big Bang Theory. Even though you don’t need me to tell you (because if you watch CBS at all they tell you so often they must think we are deaf or dumb as a post and can’t remember) Big Bang is one of the highest rated comedies on television right now. It originally was about 4 scientist friends with an emphasis on 2 of the 4 (Leonard and Sheldon) and their interactions with the “dumb blonde” (Penny) who moves across the hall from the two scientists who are also roommates. My Papa loved The Big Bang Theory, a show he renamed Sheldon.

Although over the years the show has expanded to included more members (Bernadette, Amy Farrah Fowler, Stuart the Eeyore-like comic book store owner) the general premise has remained the same. One thing that has remained constant since the beginning has been the references to Hawking and his revered status in the physics community. Although Howard has playfully poked fun at the sound of Hawking’s “voice,” the high regard they show him on the show for his role in making physics “cool” to millions of people has been one of the few unbroken rules on the show. The episode where Sheldon,  who is not crazy, his mother had him tested – is one of most watched episodes of the entire series.

 

For those of you who do not watch The Big Bang Theory allow me to put the clip above into context for you. If Sheldon were a real person, this would go down as the most amazing/most embarrassing moment in his life. For Sheldon this is the celebrity he would most want to meet. If you still can’t comprehend or understand, here is a close list of alternatives of what it would be like:

  • Any of the Boliek Siblings meeting Beyoncé. Or Blue Ivy. Or Rumi. Or Sir. Or Solange. Or pretty much anyone associated with Beyoncé.
  • My dad meeting Ric Flair.
  • Every 20-something female in America meeting Megan Markle and secretly wishing they could club her over the head and trade places with her.
  • Most 10 year old boy (or girl) meeting Batman, Superman, or any of those other “super powered” mans that make up heroes.
  • Every 10 year old girl (or boy) breaking down meeting Wonder Woman.
  • Every gay in America feeling their oats over meeting whichever pop queen it is that slays them and gives them life.
  • Every Trump supporter getting to meet Vladimir Putin to tell him thank you over putting that current monstrosity in the White House.

Now that you have sufficient context as to understand the clip above, I’ll move on. Through his appearance on TBBT and other shows over the years, Hawking cemented what I think will end up being one of the most important pieces of the great legacy he leaves behind: to the delight of nerds everywhere, Hawking made science relevant and cool. After doing some research I now know there are several college courses that focus on the influence of TBBT. Thousands of science teachers across the country (shoutout to my friend Lisa Ms. Howell who has told me she is one them) have been able to use a primetime network sitcom in an actually productive way to help demonstrate a concept or principle. And to the chagrin of animal rights activists everywhere, millions of us who watch the show now can claim to know (although we still don’t probably understand fully) the equation below:

scrod

To those of you still confused allow me to put it in the terms you and I understand. That is the equation that goes along with the thought experiment most of us will collectively know as the paradox called “Schrodinger’s Cat. And TBBT fans everywhere let out a collective “Oh yeah! The possibly dead/possibly alive cat in the box!” For those who don’t watch the she show you can find a detailed explanation here. The author has no desire to pretend to know enough to teach the concept to you.

Putting the humor aside for a second, I want to focus on the lesser know side of Hawking’s life for a second: his earlier years. I myself had no knowledge of Hawking being born in an abled-body until I saw the movie The Theory of Everything. If you have yet to see it, I highly recommend it. It details the earlier years of years of Hawking’s graduate schooling and it includes his romantic relationship with the woman who eventually became his wife. If that is not enough to get you to see it maybe this will: it stars resident dreamboat Eddie Redmayne² as Stephen Hawking. For his performance of Hawking, Redmayne won a host of awards including an Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

If you have not watched the trailer above, stop and do it. Towards the end of the trailer, Redmayne has a voiceover where he says a quote that Hawking gave in an interview around the same time his book A Brief History of Time. It is a quote that Hawking lived his life by, and now more than ever, one we would all do well to take to heart:

There should be no boundaries to human endeavor. Where the is life, there is hope.

While many of us would be curled up in the fetal position about being diagnosed in our 20’s with a rare form of early onset amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, but in America more commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease)³, Hawking never once let that stop him on his great quest to understand the relationship between space and time and how they fit together in our universe. Given just two years to live based on knowledge of the disease at that time, Hawking surpassed expectations by surviving for another four and a half decades. Racking up numerous accolades along the way, Hawking gave us research that has helped change the world, but more importantly he showed that people living with ALS – just like people living with countless other disease – are no less capable of living their full lives. All they need is to be given the chance.

If there every was a person worthy of The Today Show’s A Life Well Lived it would be Stephen Hawking. And although I have my own personal beliefs about what happens to us all eventually, I believe that as soon as Hawking crossed over, he had all the answers to the questions he searched so hard to answer. Mr. Hawking, you strove to go to infinity, and now you are beyond. I thank you for what you gave us, and I hope it is everything you thought it would be. And so much more.

 

¹ I include myself as one of those bad spellers. Physics is a hard word. Sue me.

² Although he is a resident dreamboat, I still have a bone to pick with Eddie Redmayne. Nobody should look that good, be a ginger, have cheekbones for days, AND be able to sing. Its just not fair.

³ ALS is a disease that millions across the US have been diagnosed with. Although there is currently no known cure, we are making great strides thanks to an increase in awareness (thank you ice bucket challenge) and great research being done across the globe. If you can spare a few dollars, why not donate to any of the numerous great organizations like The ALS Association, Project ALS, or The ALS Development Therapy Institute. All three organizations are leading the way on finding a cure for this disease. If research continues at the present rate, we should have a cure in our lifetimes.