This post will stray somewhat from my usual “end-of-the-month” review of the state of this blog and any accomplishments relating to this site, nudity and/or same gender loving (gay) concerns. Instead, it is a posting of a noteworthy event in commemoration of Black History Month here in the USA. I’m sure that some of you reading here may ask yourselves, “why is he writing about Black history month? He’s not Black.” True, I’m not black-skinned. However, my husband is African-American and if I am to respect both him and his heritage, then I need to acknowledge and address issues that not only concern him but us both.
Two weekends ago, Aaron and I attended the very first Black History Month celebration at Lynchburg College in the city of Lynchburg, Virginia, USA. This college is about an hours drive from Aaron’s parents home. They joined with us in attending the Saturday function.
Although within our home state, this mid-sized city located in the mountains in the western part of the state is light-years away from the progressive environment of our community in northern Virginia. The fact that this was the initial Black History event sponsored on this academic campus – ever – speaks to the general attitude of the broader as well as the collegiate community.
The gathering featured performances by a variety of students expressing themselves through dramatic, dance and spoken-word poetic interpretations. I was particularly impressed with one of the College’s first-year students who in his spoken-word poem presentation, chose to disclose to the entire student body that he is same gender loving (gay) and invite them all to join him in combatting the homophobia that he encounters on campus almost every day.
This young man’s very public “coming-out” to the entire Lynchburg College community was bold and courageous. That he also challenged the homophobic atmosphere at the institution was especially heroic. I was both encouraged and gratified to see that he received an enthusiastic standing ovation from the entire audience after he finished his poem.
The keynote speaker who concluded the program followed next. Mr. DeRay McKesson, a prominent leader within the Black Lives Matter movement that gained national attention following the shooting death of an unarmed teen, Michael Brown, by a police officer in 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri, USA. Repercussions from the outrage provoked by this senseless tragedy are still being seen throughout this country today.
In his address, McKesson, who also happens to be openly gay, challenged the students of all races and sexual identities, to actively confront social injustices that occur all around them and on a daily basis. He stressed that “diversity is about bodies, inclusion is about culture. You can recruit 100 more Black kids and still have a racist campus. You can recruit 20 more transgender kids and still have a transphobic campus.”
He then proceeded to explain the power dynamic that all-too-frequently disrupts and distorts social justice efforts throughout this land. He described power as an axis with one side as “power-over” which usually results in oppression, and the other side as “power-with” which usually results in an honest and sincere attempt to develop a fairer situation and society. It is the “power-with” side that generally brings about justice.
He next charged the audience, when faced with police violence, economic inequality and institutional discrimination, to become involved by joining local activist groups. He concluded his speech by asking everyone not to just become allies, but rather, to become accomplices. He ended his presentation with a familiar quote of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
I liked the “power” analogy and was very impressed with Mr. McKesson’s speech. The fact that he was an openly same gender loving (gay) man who was at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter struggle was even more impressive and heartening. Too often we are confronted with examples of extreme homophobia within this country’s African-American community and too few examples of that fear ever being challenged.
Aaron and I had maintained eye contact throughout the speech (he was translating the spoken words into American Sign Language) and I was certain that he and I were both on the same page (in agreement) on how we felt about what Mr. McKesson shared. What I was most interested in learning were his parents reactions to the program. I wasn’t concerned about a negative response, but what they thought about his message.
Aaron’s parents were very enthusiastic when we told them we were marrying. They both have always been supportive of us. I knew his mother advocated for gay inclusiveness as she had discussed this numerous times with us both. However, his father rarely speaks of gay issues and even less on politics. It was his thoughts about the presentation that interested me the most.
On the drive back to his parent’s home, Mr. Peterson commented that he was pleased with not only the reception of Lynchburg College’s first Black History Month observance, but on the program content as well. He added that he wasn’t aware that Mr. McKesson was gay and never realized that he was such an effective public speaker. He offered that what he truly appreciated about his speech – he referred to it as a “lecture” – was his directing the audience to not just be allies, but rather to become accomplices towards achieving social justice for all.
In Mr. Peterson’s words: “…allies, although desirable, can simply be passive observers. Accomplices, on the other hand, are just as guilty as the advocates. True social justice demands that we all get our hands dirty in order to accomplish the mission.” That summation left no doubt in my mind that Mr. Peterson, my father-in-law, had heard Mr. McKesson’s message and clearly understood it.
The premier Black History Month celebration at Lynchburg College had not only met but exceeded all of our expectations. Good job, Lynchburg College and thank you Mr. McKesson!