“Smile!” I said as they both squeezed into each other, my older son, swinging his arm around his younger brother. They had the same bright eyes, and indulged me with one too many first day of school photos.
Smiling at them I felt my heart ache. Two bright smiles, brothers to the end and the best parts of our family. The world doesn’t see their bond or my fierce mother’s love for both of them. My youngest son’s ebony skin throws them off. Color hides from their eyes our family ties. When they were little it choked me up, robbed me of my breath when someone caught me off guard me with the question, “I know he’s your son, but who is he?”
The same day I took that smiling first day of school photo of my two sons, I read it was the 60th anniversary of Ruby Bridges integrating the first all white elementary school in the south. Six years after Brown versus the Board of education ruled segregated schools were illegal in America. Sixty years ago, my sons wouldn’t be allowed to attend the same school. Segregation was America’s morality. Who do we have to thank for liberating and freeing our country from the dehumanizing practice of “whites only” water fountains, schools and churches?
My mama heart is indebted to those in the past who marched, those who protested, those who allowed themselves and their children to be beaten and jailed. Because they believed in bending the arc of the universe towards justice. They believed that we needed to break free from the poison of practicing white supremacy.
When I see pictures of those marching and praying and resisting in Minneapolis, Kenosha, and Louisville, I see hope. My eyes well up with tears of gratefulness. These are the ones who are bending the arc, still. These are the ones who are committed to an unseen reality of justice and peace in our country.
I am indebted to Protestors from the past who sacrificed their safety, their security, and even their lives so that my sons, sixty years later, could throw easy smiles at the camera on the first day of class . . . because they can walk into the same school together . . . because they have never felt the sting of segregation. Ruby Bridges was a stepping stone in the years of struggle, protests, jailing, beatings, and failed lawsuits on the road to convince America that segregation wasn’t brave or free. It was bondage.
Segregation didn’t curl up and die on its own. It took the protestors persistence, their sacrifices, and their vision of freedom. They carried Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s faith and burden of challenging the laws and the majority of Americans who couldn’t envision their way of life or their country without segregation.
When we see Protestors, may we pray for more of us to pour into the streets and join them. May we fill the air and our lungs with songs of hope, like “We shall overcome” and “This little light of mine.”
When we see those Marching, may we watch for justice to roll down like rivers.
When we see those raising their voices, their fists, their signs and prayers, may we look for a glimpse of the Beloved Community.
May we envision those children sixty years from now, throwing their arms around each other, living in peace and protection from police brutality because we believed that the love of Christ compels us to work for justice today—that it may make all the difference tomorrow.