Sunday, February 19, 2017

McKay Students Honor Black History, Black Lives & Rosa Parks

We are gifted in Salem to have so many young people who honor us with their talents and bravery and questions and their willingness to put the best of their skills to work for justice. Tonight I was impressed by the students at McKay who honored Black History Month with their considerable singing and acting abilities and I was happy to see the support that they got from the community.

Really, it is no small thing to work under the direction of an inspired teacher and put together a program in just three weeks. Part of the context for tonight's success forms around the barbarism of the Trump administration, to be sure, but part of the context also forms around the fact that McKay does not get the resources needed to carry out its mission and fully serve its diverse student body. Great work is done by the faculty who pulled tonight's program together, but they should not have to struggle so hard.

Tonight's program honored many Black celebrities, including Muhammad Ali, and Rosa Parks and the Obamas. Whatever we think of President Obama's record and legacy, we have to acknowledge that what were specially honored tonight were Black success and healthy Black relationships. The young people gave this honor through songs and acting, and their passion and commitment were obvious. Benny Williams, President of the local NAACP unit, provided some closing remarks which put the program in its proper perspective. A talented young artist had done a painting of Rosa Parks which was auctioned off for the school. That young man, and his fellow students, showed real heart and soul.

It is difficult for me to watch any reenactment of the Bloody Sunday events (March 7, 1965), no matter how it is portrayed, and I hoped as I watched the young people reenact those events that they understand, or will come to understand, what this event meant. Likewise, I thought that the young woman who took the part of Rosa Parks did a fantastic job in getting down the body language and the look of the brave Black women I remember from my childhood. She has a special talent which I hope will be used to uplift and serve the people in the future.

These young people live in a different world than I do. Tonight I saw Black, Brown and white youth wearing club tee shirts with the Black Lives Matter message and they seemed so unself-conscious and confident. In this sense, perhaps, they do embody something of the spirit of Rosa Parks. They no doubt pull their self-confidence and determination from deep within themselves, but it takes people like Benny Williams and Marilyn Williams and the teacher who worked with the students to bring it out.

My hope  is that in the future we will see James Baldwin, Nikki Giovanni and bel hooks honored as we saw Prince and Michael Jackson honored tonight. My hope is that these events will come to include every voice in the Black community and that parents and faculty and the community will embrace this. The youth showed tonight that they have the skills and treasurers to move forward.

We could fully honor Rosa Parks by providing the young people with the kind of political education which she and W.E.B. Du Bois and Benjamin Davis and Angela Davis got, an education which moved them not only to think differently but to organize others and take action. These people were among the heroes of my youth, and I can hear them saying that I'm being too critical. I answer that I'm not, but that I am hoping that our movement can again birth freedom schools which build progressive leadership.

Is anyone in the Salem area interested in learning from the Jackson model and building something like it here? Can we take education to that level?  

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