Changing the World One Step at a Time

This past week I learned that Alberta Williams King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s mother, was shot and killed on June 30, 1974, six years after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. as she sat at the organ of the Ebenezer Baptist Church.

Despite my open admiration of Martin Luther King Jr., Julian Bond and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee as well as my willing participation in Black History Month programs, I need to admit that I play a part in the role that ignorance affects racism in the United States.

As an ally in the fight to end discrimination in the communities that I am proud to be a part of, I admit that I have room to grow and learn more.

This month, I’m challenging myself and anyone who’s willing to join me to admit our ignorance, to take the time to acknowledge what we don’t know and find the people willing to teach us how we can be better allies.

This Black History Month, I’m acknowledging my lack of knowledge of the women who have worked to end discrimination and sexism in the world that we live in.

The first woman I want to draw attention to is Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress and also the first black candidate to run for president, as well as the first woman to run for the Democratic Party nomination.

Her campaign slogan in her Congressional campaign was “unbought and unbossed.” Shirley Chisholm cleared the path for female and black leadership in Washington.

She is famously quoted saying, “You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.”

Another acknowledgement I must make is my inability to truly appreciate the suffering that black women have had to experience in a culture that makes women feel undervalued for not only their race, but their gender.

Black History Month is a challenge to celebrate spaces of diversity and acknowledge spaces that we need to grow.

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, otherwise known as SNCC, was known during the Civil Rights Movement as the spark that moved the wider Civil Rights Movement into a more visible action.

While the accomplishments of the student leaders in the South were tremendous and should be praised, I would like to focus on Ella Baker, who advised and mentored SNCC leaders into the next generation of advocates and continued to work to end injustice herself.

She was largely a behind-the-scenes organizer who worked alongside some of the most famous civil rights leaders of the 20th century, including W. E. B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, A. Philip Randolph and Martin Luther King Jr.

She also mentored many emerging activists such as Diane Nash, Stokely Carmichael, Rosa Parks and Bob Moses.

She was a critic of professionalized, charismatic leadership and a promoter of grassroots organizing and radical democracy.

She has been called “one of the most important African-American leaders of the 20th century and perhaps the most influential woman in the civil rights movement” by Barbara Ransby.

Baker once said, “I have always felt it was a handicap for oppressed peoples to depend so largely upon a leader, because unfortunately in our culture, the charismatic leader usually becomes a leader because he has found a spot in the public limelight.”

Learning about the lives and struggles that powerful black women have experienced in no way makes me less ignorant. I have a whole lifetime of listening and learning to work against my own ignorance of racial dynamics.

But in celebration of life, we celebrate diversity. We celebrate our ignorance and our understanding.

February should come as an invitation for our community to find the ignorance we all possess and work to understand what we don’t know; to go beyond asking questions and studying history to becoming a part of the present solution.



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