A conversation about racism and the call for a courageous response between Dr. Tom Curran and Fr. Patrick Smith… Entitled: 8 Minutes and 46 Seconds that Destroyed a Life and Exposed a Nation.
Bettie Graham who is an active member of our parish has sent me this reflection after the death of John Robert Lewis
As we close this week, I have been reflecting on the passing of a Great American and how he has affected my life. My thoughts followed two paths:
The Right to Vote: In the US, we exercise our voice through the ballot box. Eligibility to vote in the United States is established both through the United States Constitution and by state law. Prior to 1965, many states decided who could vote. In Texas where I was born, only those who paid an annual poll tax (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poll_taxes_in_the_United_States) were eligible to vote until the mid-60s. I vividly remembered my parents always paying the annual poll tax so that they could vote. Little did I know that there were many individuals who could not afford to pay this tax thus, disenfranchising them from voting. Meanwhile there were others who were “grandfathered” in and did not have to pay a poll tax if they were an adult male whose father or grandfather had voted in a specific year prior to the abolition of slavery. Some states used other means to suppress voting, such as literacy tests, intimidation, disinformation, gerrymandering, etc., especially targeting people of African origin. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a landmark piece of federal legislation in the United States that prohibited racial discrimination in voting, thus leveling the playing field by giving all US citizens the right to vote. However, to get to the point of legislation, Americans of every race, color and creed participated in many marches, protests, etc. that sometimes resulted in mental and physical harm and even death. John Robert Lewis (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Lewis_(civil_rights_leader) was one of the early leaders in this very important part of American history. He continued his passion to make America the country that is embodied in the constitution until the day he died. I have always understood the importance of voting, but now, whenever I vote, whether by mail or in person, I will pay homage to the Honorable John Robert Lewis and all his fellow protestors for giving me the inalienable right to vote and consider it as a small down payment on my debt to him for all of his efforts in making the US “a more perfect union.”
The Voting Rights Act is not just for people of color; it is for all of us. It is making America a true democracy and the country we all want to be proud to live in.
What Can We Do to Continue His Dream: We need another John Robert Lewis, but that is not possible because there is only ONE John Robert Lewis. There are many ways that we, as individuals, can continue the dream. If we are to be successful, we need to “start where we are,” to lower the barriers of getting to know people as individuals and not as a group. For many of us, this is taking small baby steps, but we must be committed to stepping out of our comfort zone to form a bridge with someone/family/child who is not of our same race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic group, etc. We all know the power of continual dripping water on the hardest stone—it eventually wears away the hardest of stone. So, some of the baby steps I can think of are: recommending someone for a promotion/position/to present at or plan for a scientific meeting; visiting a nearby HBCU or MSI when you are at a scientific workshop/conference or grantee meeting; getting young people registered to vote; sitting with someone who does not look like you at an institute or other public gathering; sharing your undergrad college experiences and survival skills with a first-generation high school student preparing for college; inviting people to lunch at work or dinner at home; arranging play dates for children; tutoring or mentoring K-12 students interested in science or math; taking those with limited mobility grocery shopping, picking up medication for a senior citizen; babysitting or cooking a meal for a very busy single mom/dad; having an afternoon conversation with a senior citizen; etc. I am sure that you can come up with more ideas to get to know people who do not look like you. Every individual has a story to tell that opens a window into the lives of the most beautiful mosaic of people who make up this nation. We must do all we can to “change the hearts and minds” in our quest to making the US a true democracy. Every interaction may not result in a sustained relationship, but we must not stop trying. Giving up is not an option, if we are to succeed.
Today, I hope that we will all make a commitment to make American the America that the Honorable John Robert Lewis aspired it to be. The events of the past several months speak to the need for that. John Robert Lewis’ final parting words to us were: “ walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.” This song should inspire us all: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aor6-DkzBJ0. Please feel free to share this message with family and friends.
Stay safe; stay healthy; stay sane; stay strong; stay home!