Positivity: A Super Power

“The power of positivity is a real thing. If you truly believe that something good will happen, it will. Because your good vibes are like gold, and they attract other good things.”

–Jessica Coleman via http://thoughtcatalog.com/2013/26-things-ive-learned-in-my-26-years-of-life/

Advertisements

50th Anniversary of the March on Washington Reveals Feelings of Triumph and Frustration

Image

**Photo Credit- Erin Robertson

On Saturday, amid a sunny backdrop, along with tens of thousands of others, I descended on the National Mall to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington, retracing the footsteps of those 250,000 people, who undeterred by the sweltering summer heat of 1963, marched for civil rights.

Preceding the march named “The National Action to Reclaim the Dream,” Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, Martin Luther King III and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), arranged for a number of prominent speakers including King, Sharpton, first black Attorney General Eric Holder (D-N.J.), Newark Mayor Cory Booker, and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) to gather on the white marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial where they addressed the crowd, reflected on and reaffirmed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, “Normalcy Never Again,” popularly known as the revolutionary, “I Have a Dream” address.

Image**Photo Credit- e-strategyblog.com

In his speech, King delivered these famous words, “I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.”

In the half-century since, much of Dr. King’s dream for positive change and greater equality for all has been realized and a number of the speeches delivered optimistically applauded America’s evolution in race relations.

The time that has elapsed reveals that attendees’ fashion sensibilities have shifted away from their predecessors’ finest threads like sharp suits, elegantly flowing dresses, and carefully coiffed and pressed hair. No longer are such displays of sophistication and respectability required to disarm, command credibility, and symbolize a collective emblem of worth. Instead, crowd goers seemed to feel freer to don casual attire with images of Dr. King, President Obama,Trayvon Martin, and other black political martyrs proudly emblazoned on colorful, commemorative t-shirts and sport dyed, braided, and natural black hairstyles.

As I walked among the throngs of people inching my way closer to the orators, I was encouraged to see considerable diversity. The crowd no longer looked like pepper with a dash of salt as seen in old photographs, but an all-seasoned mix.

Image**Photo Credit- The U.S. National Archives

For example, I met Allie O’Neil, a 22-year-old white girl originally from Birmingham, Ala., the city where the bus boycott sparked the genesis of the civil rights movement that escalated into widely broadcasted clashes between black youth and white police. The fact that she felt moved to attend the march demonstrates considerable progress.

“I feel like it’s important to be here to celebrate people who have fought a lot for civil rights and for human rights in general. And I think it’s important to be here still years after the fact to re-initiate the fight and the push towards human rights,” O’Neil said.

O’Neil noted that in the twenty years since she has lived in the South, she has noticed a lot of improvements particularly for the influx of Latino and refugee communities that are thriving and gaining access to more resources.

Furthermore, Anis Ahmed, a Maryland resident who emigrated to the U.S. from Bangladesh 29 years ago, jubilantly turned out to celebrate the momentous occasion, representing NAACP of Montgomery County, Md.

Ahmed acknowledged that without the blood, sweat, and tears shed by civil rights activists backed by watershed organizations like the NAACP several decades ago as well as the transformative words spoken by Dr. King, his ability to offer a better life for his children in the form of American citizenship could not have been realized.

“This is a great testament for all folks throughout the world and in this country and especially like me. I owe all of this to the 50th anniversary to celebrate and honor because without this movement, I couldn’t be here today,” said Ahmed.

Many attendees embraced the memorial as an opportunity to passionately champion their causes on hand drawn or printed signs. The issues varied from demanding an end to search and frisk practices to calling for immigration reform to appealing for acknowledgment of LGBT marriage rights, all contentious issues of the 21st century’s civil rights movement.

Image

**Photo Credit- Erin Robertson 

Dr. King’s words sensing the difficulties and simmering frustrations of the moment still resonate and could be felt among the crowd.

In recent months, there have been several setbacks such as the watering down of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who fatally shot unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, which has unleashed a firestorm of outrage. Those stumbling blocks were invoked by the speakers reminding audience members that much still remains to be accomplished to ensure equal opportunities and protections under the law for all people, regardless of color, creed, or sexual orientation.

Image

**Photo Credit- Erin Robertson 

Image**Photo Credit- Erin Robertson 

The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn parts of the 1965 Voting Rights legislation inspired husband and wife, Robert and Gail Lamont, both white, to board an all-night bus from Chicago to Washington for the event.

“Democracy is not a spectator sport,” Mrs. Lamont cited as one of three reasons that she and Mr. Lamont traveled from their home state.

The Lamonts met while teaching at a segregated black high school in the West-side of Chicago where Mrs. Lamont encouraged her students to memorize verses written by black poets like Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks.

On the heels of the civil rights movement of which they came of age, the Lamonts have worked tirelessly to assist in the election effort of President Obama, heading to Iowa nearly ten times in the past two presidential election cycles.

“It was very important to me to drag my white husband’s face to doorways in Iowa, so that Iowans know that white men were voting for President Obama too,” said Mrs. Lamont.

When I thanked Mrs. Lamont for taking the time to share their personal story as crusaders for civil rights she replied, “It’s so tiny, but every little person that does something just adds to the wave.”

“There are many more white people in this audience today than there was 50 years ago. That makes me happy. There are people who have changed their personal decisions in their lives and wanted to be here today. Other progress I see are people being hired in many more positions that weren’t available to African-Americans 50 years ago or even 10 years ago,” she said.

Like the Lamonts, others traveled considerable distances to attend the event. Eleanor Lundy-Wade bused in from Philadelphia, Pa. She was particularly excited to hear Rev. Joseph Lowery, present at the original march, speak.

“We’ve come to Washington to agitate,” the 92-year-old and founder of Southern Christian Leadership Conference said, “And we’re going home to agitate.”

When speaking to the sort of “agitation” and progress that she would like to see, Lundy-Wade said, “If we can help every kid to graduate at least from college, that would be wonderful and that would be a big progress because then everybody would at least have the same minimal standard of excellence.”

Jim Stowe, Director of the Office of Human Rights for Montgomery County, Md. recalled watching the Civil Rights Movement unfold on the evening news as a 7-year-old. In his lifetime, he has witnessed a lot of changes for the better.

“A lot of progress has been made, but the problem is if we don’t keep making more progress, then whatever progress you would have made becomes null. It becomes pretty much stuck in a rut. And so, we must constantly be in a mode of improvement, of going forward, of trying to right wrongs, and (we) can’t ever be content with where we are.  There’s always a better place, there always is,” Stowe said.

For Stowe, progress looks like arriving at a place where people challenge themselves to grow comfortable interacting with others who think and act differently as well as fight as fervently for others’ rights as much as they advocate for their own.

After the speakers concluded, I and other rally members made our way to march east from the Lincoln Memorial, past the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the first of its kind on the National Mall dedicated to an individual who was not a former president, to the Washington Monument. Before dispersing, I noticed an older, yet vivacious woman holding a sign that read, “We Marched in 1963, March on Washington.”

Image**Photo Credit- Erin Robertson

I learned that Sarah J. Davison, a retired school teacher, attended the march 50 years ago as a 15-year-old president of North Little Rock, Ark.’s NAACP youth council. She attended the march the first time around because she was livid that she and her black peers were treated as second-class citizens, forced to sit in the back of buses, drink from “colored-only” water fountains, and use second-hand books at her segregated black high school.

Fast-forward 50 years, Davison said she never expected to see a black president in the White House, a major leap forward, but she also did not anticipate seeing the diluting of the Voting Rights Act, a major step backwards. While Davison said she is disappointed to witness such a rollback in the progressive momentum she fought tirelessly for as a youth, she still believes that America is a great place to live; she still loves her country, and she expects it to move forward propelled by its youth.

“I think we’ll move forward from today because it’s the people that move the country forward, so if we can make sure the young people, the adults, everybody is involved and says, ‘I want to make a difference.’ If we start letting young people know that they’re (here) to make a difference and they get involved, I think we will move forward in a more positive direction,” said Davison.

“I always (tell) young people, you weren’t born just to eat, sleep, and go to the bathroom. You were born to make a difference in the world,” she added.

On Wednesday, a more intimate march called the “March for Jobs and Justice” will be held on the actual anniversary of the March on Washington. President Obama will add further to his legacy as the nation’s first black president by standing on the very steps of the Lincoln Memorial where the slain civil rights icon stood to proclaim those well-known and profound words, “I have a dream.”

**Video Credit-sullenToys.com