Good morning, ALLIES!
Words cannot express the deep appreciation and respect we feel towards each of you for participating in this movement. As we’ve listened to your stories and connected with your positive, powerful energy, we are reminded yet again that our freedoms are inextricably bound. Earlier this year, Chevara Orrin was asked to serve as the keynote speaker for Black History Month for MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station). The theme was “We are Standing at the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality.” She shared her personal connection to the Civil Rights Movement – her white, Jewish civil and human rights, women’s liberation activist mother, and her father, James Bevel, a fiery orator and strategist who served as one of Dr. King’s top lieutenants, who was a driving force of the civil rights campaigns of the 1960’s, including the Birmingham Children’s Crusade.
She reminded them that history often repeats itself. A century after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, the struggle for equality manifested into the 1963 March On Washington, a rally for jobs, economic equality and freedom. Fifty years later, we are yet again standing at the crossroads of freedom and equality. When our City Council voted 10-9 to reject a bill expanding the city’s human rights ordinance to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination, we were in that standing room only crowd of about 500 people. As we watched the votes of council members appear on the digital board, we thought of Bayard Rustin, the chief organizer of the March on Washington. It was Bayard Rustin who first brought Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance protest techniques to the attention of Dr. King. It was Bayard Rustin who helped mold Dr. King into an international symbol of peace and nonviolence. It was Bayard Rustin who stood teetering precariously at the intersection of race and sexual orientation at a time, not much different than now, when discrimination and homophobia runs rampant in our community.
Chevara thought of Fannie Lou Hamer, Harry Belafonte, Harriet Tubman, Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner, Emmitt Till, Jimmie Lee Jackson, Father Popieluszko and Harvey Milk. And then, about her own sons and the world that they will inherit from us. Last October, a documentary, Messenger of the Truth, was screened at the Jacksonville Film Festival. It is the true story of a Roman Catholic priest who fought for social justice in Poland in the 1980’s. As images of Father Jerzy Popieluszko’s battered, bloated body pulled from the Vistula River in Poland in 1984, it was reminiscent of Emmett Till’s mutilated corpse floating in the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi in 1955.
Abolitionist Movement. Eastern European Liberation Movement. Civil Rights Movement. Women’s Suffrage Movement. Feminist Movement. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Movement. Lives lost and transformed through struggle for human rights, social justice, and political and religious freedoms. Connections that are deeper than symbols. Millions of slaves emancipated. 300,000 freedom fighters marching on Washington. 100,000 Polish Catholics celebrating the life and mourning the death of Father Jerzy Popieluszko, hands raised in a fist, the index and middle fingers extended. The “V” sign for victory….for peace.
The Black Power salute, arm outstretched with clenched fist, made in protest by African-American athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, during their medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. Thousands standing in silent solidarity attending a candlelight vigil in San Francisco honoring Harvey Milk or being attacked by state and local police with billy clubs and tear gas while marching across the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama. Peaceful protests, violent confrontations, brilliant and charismatic leadership, strategy, all for the belief in freedom.
What does all of this have to do with us? Or any of you? Well, the history of Jacksonville, and our great nation, demands that we make deliberate, intentional efforts to draw connections that bring us closer to one another so that we are no longer standing at the crossroads of freedom and equality. In 2006, then-Senator Barack Obama delivered these words at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Martin Luther King, Jr. monument:
“We have not yet arrived at this longed-for place. For all the progress we have made, there are times when the land of our dreams recedes from us — when we are lost, wandering spirits, content with our suspicions and our angers, our long-held grudges and petty disputes, our frantic diversions and tribal allegiances.”
We are hopeful that we can attain the dreams and goals set forth by those who came before us. Today, we celebrate the convergence of the lives of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., A. Philip Randolph, and Bayard Rustin. A. Philip Randolph once said, “A community is democratic only when the humblest and weakest person can enjoy the highest civil, economic, and social rights that the biggest and most powerful possess.” And from a tiny jail cell in Birmingham, King wrote, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”
It is our collective responsibility to begin … again … this work — NOW! The road to freedom is long and arduous, but as Tracy Chapman sings, “If not now, then when?
Thank you for your time and commitment. We look forward to sharing our work with the world.
Much love to you all (to those of you we have met and have still to meet)
Chevara, Dan, and Laura
***We’ve included a link for the 2005 Academy award-winning short documentary, Mighty Times: The Children’s March. This film was co-produced by the Soutern Poverty Law Center and HBO, and tells the story of the Birmingham civil rights marches. The Children’s Crusade was initiated and organized by Chevara’s father, James Bevel.
For four days in May, 1963, thousands of school students marched in peaceful nonviolent protest to desegregate the city. They were beaten, hosed, attacked by dogs and arrested. This pivotal campaign promoted President John F. Kennedy to publicly fully support racial equality and led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.