(RNS) In one of his last official acts, President Obama has designated Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and other civil rights landmarks in Birmingham, Ala., as the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument.
The designation protects the historic A.G. Gaston Motel in that city, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders had their 1963 campaign headquarters, as well as Kelly Ingram Park, where police turned hoses and dogs on civil rights protesters.
And it includes the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where four girls died in 1963 after Ku Klux Klan members detonated more than a dozen sticks of dynamite outside the church basement.
“This national monument will fortify Birmingham’s place in American history and will speak volumes to the place of African-Americans in history,” said the Rev. Arthur Price Jr., pastor of the church, in a statement.
Obama’s proclamation also cites the role of Bethel Baptist Church, headquarters of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, and St. Paul United Methodist Church, from which protesters marched before being stopped by police dogs.
In his proclamation Thursday (Jan. 12), Obama said the various sites “all stand as a testament to the heroism of those who worked so hard to advance the cause of freedom.”
In other acts, all timed to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which will be observed on Monday, the president designated the Freedom Riders National Monument in Anniston, Ala., and the Reconstruction Era National Monument in coastal South Carolina.
He cited the role of congregations in all three areas — from sheltering civil rights activists at Bethel Baptist Church to hosting mass meetings at First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., to providing a school for former slaves at the Brick Baptist Church in St. Helena Island, S.C.
The designations instruct the National Park Service to manage the sites and consider them for visitor services and historic preservation.
“African-American history is American history and these monuments are testament to the people and places on the front-lines of our entire nation’s march toward a more perfect union,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.
Since 1986, the third Monday of January has been reserved to commemorate the birthday, life and legacy of one of the nation’s greatest leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. King—a Baptist preacher, scholar, and arguably the greatest leader of the Civil Rights Movement, selflessly fought for the equal rights of not only African Americans, but all people.
In a time when Jim Crow and legal segregation were the law of the land, Dr. King became the face of a movement that sought to dismantle the institution of racial injustice. He advocated for persons in poverty, spoke against the Vietnam war, and worked to ensure that all Americans had equal rights and protections under the law. Nearly 50 years after Dr. King’s assassination, his legacy lives on.
Although MLK Day is a national holiday, the ways in which people choose to celebrate—or not—are endless. Many schools and organizations across the nation will have the day off and/or host an MLK Day program, while others may participate in a community service project or attend city-wide marches and rallies.
In Chicago, the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago will lead volunteers in organizing food for distribution to the Senior Food and Nutrition Program in partnership with Catholic Charities. In Kansas City, Missouri, Turn the Page KC will host a book give-away at Southeast Community Center. Atlanta, the hometown of Dr. King, will have many volunteer opportunities including the 7th Annual Street Team for Energy Efficiency and Climate Resilience, hosted by the Center for Sustainable Communities.
“I will be giving 15 keynote presentations at MLK events over the next two weeks.” says Erin Jones, a 25-year educator, public speaker, and former State Superintendent candidate of Washington State. “[However,] I would like to think I celebrate his birthday every single day by living my life devoted to equality and opportunity for all, especially those who are most vulnerable in our communities.”
Just Another Day Off?
As our nation continues to fight issues of social injustice and racial tension, many question whether or not the ideals memorialized on MLK Day—a day of peace and tolerance—hold true throughout the year.
“We need to understand as a country that what [Dr. King] fought for still needs to be fought for today,” says Thomas McElroy, long-time musician from Seattle Washington. “The path towards a country united under the principals he laid down for all of us still need to be worked on.”
So, the question becomes, does MLK Day hold any true meaning in present-day society? Or, has it been reduced to a day off from work and school?
According to Erin Jones, “We have turned the day into an opportunity to rehearse the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.”
“I can honestly say that, personally, I have never celebrated the holiday and have taken it as a vacation day,” says Elisabeth Scott, a recent college graduate of Western Washington University. “It wasn’t until going to my current church, that I participated in an MLK service. Had I not sung [during service], I probably wouldn’t have attended.”
However, Sergeant First Class Derek White, a 16-year member of the armed forces still sees the value in MLK Day, and what it means to the future of our society.
“I think that MLK being observed most definitely holds weight for both older and the younger generations. One way to ensure that our past does not repeat itself is by honoring people like Dr. King and his legacy and what he fought for and stood for.”
The Importance of Generational Knowledge
As an educator, Erin Jones argues that celebrating MLK Day does not have the same significance for young people today.
“Students have no context to understand the gravity of what Dr. King and his peers accomplished,” the educator says. “That being said, I believe it is our responsibility to communicate the value of this holiday, which is why I agreed to speak at so many schools.”
As a professional mentor to students, Jessica Crenshaw believes in giving back to the community, but admits that she does not celebrate Martin Luther King Jr Day—for much different reasons.
“I do not celebrate MLK day as a holiday because I feel the significance of the day has been diminished,” Jessica says. “I feel it has been cheapened down for a “get-off-of-work-free card”.
For Jessica, authentic celebration of MLK Day should include not only service to the community, rallies, and celebration events, but should serve as a day to reflect and organize for long-term change.
“I feel as if people should really take time to reflect over what Dr. King was trying to accomplish, and actually sit down and have planning meetings to plan out actions to make sure that his dream gets fulfilled,” she says. “Concerts and protests are good, but if you don’t continue to do this work after January 16th then you’re not doing it for a real reason.”
“Hidden Figures” blew expectations beyond the stratosphere with wall-to-wall, movie-goers everywhere.
Audiences across the nation were enthusiastic to finally witness the story of three African American women—Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe)—working as the driving force behind a historic event in American history.
It was these three women who played a significant role in the successful orbit of N.A.S.A. astronaut John Glenn around Earth. And, it was the film adaptation of this New York Times Bestseller that gave “Star Wars: Rogue One” a run for the top spot in just one weekend while grossing $22.8 Million.
Throughout the film, there were several laughs and boisterous commentary from the audience on everything from the intelligence capacity of a woman to racism and gender equality in the work place. Some audience members even had the book in hand while leaving the theater.
“‘Hidden Figures’ made me so proud to be a Black woman,” Kimberly Mayberry of Houston, Texas says. “It also put into perspective how long we’ve been fighting the equality battle and why we should be thankful for those who came before us.”
Although we are able to celebrate the success of “Hidden Figures,” the battle to be considered equal continues today, even with progress made. So, here are four key takeaways from this amazing depiction of lessons we can all learn from this blockbuster film.
“We all get there together or we don’t get there at all.”
The story of “Hidden Figures” takes place during the Civil Rights Era during a time when the race to space against Russia also made international headlines.
In order to make history, NASA recruited mathematician Katherine Johnson, played by Academy Award nominee Taraji P. Henson, to help calculate the launch and landing for the upcoming mission. Although she demonstrated her capabilities to her superior Al Harrison, played by Kevin Costner, Katherine’s work ethic and abilities were hindered by the blatant racism shown by her all-white, male counterparts. This was particularly challenging when she was forced to sprint a half-mile to the “colored” bathroom across campus.
After learning of the situation, Al demands that all members of NASA unify for the progress needed in order to truly make history in the world of aeronautics.
Although African Americans have been forced to take a stand, it is also imperative that we as one human race empathize with the struggle of our counterparts which will ultimately help us move forward together for the greater good.
I am my sister’s keeper.
Although Dorothy Vaughan, played by Academy Award Winner Octavia Spencer, is charged with supervising an entire department made up of all African American female aids and calculators (mathematicians), she is informed that she will not receive the official title and benefits of being a supervisor, because she is “unfit,” according to her direct report, played by Kirsten Dunst.
After a series of events, Dorothy learns that her department may eventually become obsolete which inspires her to find a way to show that both she and her team play a significant role in NASA operations.
In fact, the team’s performance was so effective that NASA calls on Dorothy for training her white counterparts in the future. Of course, Dorthy had the ability to just move herself forward. But instead, she paved the way for every woman in NASA because they were all worth it.
It is so important that we, as women, regardless of our race, spread knowledge amongst ourselves if we are going to succeed together as the sisters we claim to be.
Beauty and brains is not a threat to the mature man.
Mary Jackson, played by singer and songwriter Janelle Monáe, is an aspiring engineer, wife and mother. Initially her husband is a bit disgruntled by her absence in the home while she follows her dreams. However, when she is forced to take extraordinary measures in order to pursue a career in engineering he matches her effort by supporting and encouraging her to keep going.
Katherine, a widow and mother of three girls, receives similar support when she is introduced to Colonel Jim Johnson who is enamored with her beauty and intelligence. Although they get off to a bumpy start, the colonel’s admiration and support grows for Katherine throughout the film.
Both of these examples were important to see on film, as some are lead to believe that accomplished women are too smart or independent for love. Instead of seeing it as a hindrance to their overall beauty, the men of “Hidden Figures” see the brilliance of the women in their lives as an asset. That is why it is so important to emphasize to our girls and adolescents that intelligence and accomplishment are a critical asset to overall beauty, and the right man will love you for it.
Perhaps we’re already there.
“Think we can make it to the moon?”- Al
“We’re already there.”- Katherine.
The above exchange takes place between Katherine and Al after NASA’s successful orbit around the earth. Although the characters are speaking about the progress of NASA, the overall conversation is really about vision.
So often, people may have an idea, but they may be unsure how they are going to achieve it. However, it is important to remember that success starts with the mind. Although there are still many roadblocks ahead for women and people of color, no one can deny that we have progressed in unimaginable ways and will continue to do so. “Hidden Figures” teaches us to reach beyond our easily attainable goals by tapping into our well-equipped faith, talents. We are able to achieve greatness, because the truth is we’re already there.
Check out the trailer for Hidden Figures below, and see what all of the hype is about for yourself in theaters now.
When will this nightmare end? On Monday, our nation added another hashtag to our timelines and newsfeeds after learning of yet another unarmed Black man being gunned down by police.
But, Terence Crutcher was more than just another hashtag. He was active in the church choir, a father of four, a son, and a twin. In fact, he and his twin sister celebrated their 40th birthday a month ago, but you probably won’t hear about much of this on the news. Instead, for the next several weeks, our lives will be inundated with media coverage of Terence’s final moments at every turn.
History shows that we are only left with two options here. We can either watch the video footage that has already been shared thousands of times on social media or continue scrolling down our feeds, only to find an abundance of statuses and memes addressing the incident.
Although this story is still developing and we do not have all of the details on exactly what happened this week, I think we can all agree that this scenario is becoming all too common.
Recent studies show that although Black Americans make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population, we are 2.5 times more likely to be shot and killed by police officers. But instead, we have turned our attention to burning football jerseys and waiting to see who will be the next athlete to join Colin Kaepernick in his quest to bring awareness to the social injustice that is plaguing our nation.
Acts 17:26 says, “From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth.” Yes, we are all created equally in God’s eyes, but the above statistics paint a different picture.
Kaepernick addresses his supporters in a recent Instagram post and ends his caption by saying, “I believe in the people, and WE can be the change!” We may agree with his statement, but how many of us are really willing to do something to see that this change is manifested?
Instead, many of us seem to be losing sight of what really matters.
Yes, Kaepernick made the decision to exercise his freedom and leverage his platform by kneeling during the national anthem, and no, some of us may not agree with it. However, I think we can all agree that something must be done to show that enough is enough.
But, the lingering question is, “What?”
When will we, as a nation, get to the point where we say, “Something has to be done,” and work to find a solution that truly does provide liberty and justice for all, regardless of their race?
When will our voices be heard? And, what can we as individuals do in order to help bring justice to Terence Crutcher and so many others whose lives have been reduced to yet another hashtag?
Colin Kaepernick and many others have found peaceful ways to express their frustration with the recent injustices that plague our nation. And, although Kaepernick is one of the more famous figures who have decided to use his platform for social justice, hundreds, and even thousands, of people of all races are working tirelessly to bring awareness to this ever-growing, national problem.
So, instead of only opting to be vocal on social media about the death of Terence Crutcher and so many others, what do you plan to do to ensure that your voice is heard?
Share your thoughts below. We’d love to hear from you!