I’ve never been one to shy away from talking about difficult subjects with my 7-year old, but on a topic as monumental as civil rights, I often struggle on how to do so in a way that is deeper than just “the history lesson of the day” that he reads about in school and doesn’t think about again. The last thing I want is for my Asian-American kid to feel disconnected, unaffected by this time in history that transformed a nation….that continues to tear it apart. How do I NOT make my child lose faith in all humanity at such a tender age, and yet manage to instill a sense of responsibility and ownership in him as a future citizen of the world?
As we mark the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, I choose to talk to my son about the ugly realities of that day, in a way that will hopefully inspire him to "be the change." While the violence of the Selma marches horrified our nation, those transformative moments in history (and the courage of the faces behind them) undoubtedly served as an important catalyst for the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Here’s what I hope my son will understand today.
1. At the end of the day, even the “good” guys are merely human, and the ones breaking the laws can end up being the greatest heroes.During the Selma marches, activist and deacon Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot and killed by a state trooper. Unarmed organizer, Amelia Boynton, along with 600 peaceful marchers were viscously attacked with clubs and tear gas by state troopers and a county posse at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, leaving Boynton unconscious.
2. Always own your privilege and then use it to impact change.
While the governor of the state of Alabama refused to protect the marchers, President Johnson committed to doing so. Protected by 2,000 soldiers of the U.S. Army, 1,900 members of the Alabama National Guard under Federal command, and many FBI agents and Federal Marshals, the marchers averaged 10 miles a day along U.S. Route 80, known in Alabama as the Jefferson Davis Highway.
3. Some things are worth standing up for. Justice is one of them.
If it weren’t for the Selma marches, some of your best friends today would not be able to vote. Barack Obama would not be president.
4. You can always do good from your little corner of the world.
As a 7-year old, you don’t have to march to make the world better, but you can speak up when you see someone being bullied. You can share your views on love when someone expresses hate towards someone else.
5. We belong to each other. We’re all connected.
Without the civil rights movement, as an inter-racial couple, your mom and dad would not have been able to get married. You too, wouldn’t be able to vote.
6. We still have a lot of work to do.
Police brutality still exists. African-Americans are still experiencing racism. Your uncles are still not allowed to get married. Women are still disproportionately experiencing violence. What is our Selma today?