One Question after Watching 42

courage at bat 42He rubbed red clay between is hands when he stepped up to the plate.

No matter what they threw at him–racial slurs, death threats, or fast balls to the head–Jackie Robinson stepped up to the plate over and over again until he changed this country.

While most images of the Civil Rights Movement (which started nearly a decade after Robinson’s debut in the International League) show groups, often crowds of blacks marching, sitting in, picketing, and boycotting together, every day Jackie Robinson had to go alone, out there in the open arena, exposed to the world, one black man in the white field of Major League Baseball.

Though Jackie Robinson played the star role, a whole cast of characters also stepped up to the plate to help him round the bases, so to speak. This was, after all, much bigger than him, and it was way more than just a baseball game.

Rachel Robinson

First, I applaud the brilliant, on-screen display of love and friendship, passion and partnership between Jackie and his wife Rachel.

It’s by far one of the best depictions of a black couple in mainstream Hollywood, partly because their marriage is so central to the story, as it obviously was in real life.

At every home game, Jackie looked to the stands to find his wife. One smile, one gesture between them communicated more than other spectators could ever know.

She could’ve tried to talk him out of it. Told him that he was putting his son’s life at risk. Said she was tired of fighting alongside him. Complained that it was just baseball, just a silly game. She could’ve broken down. She could’ve left him.

Instead, she stepped up to the plate.

I’m sure she had her fears. Some of the death threats were serious enough to get the FBI involved. And of course there were the injuries on the field, intentional throws at Jackie’s head, but she never wavered.

Branch Rickey

The Dodgers General Manager, Branch Rickey, may not be a household name for the majority of us, but his role is undeniable.

He displayed the kind of courage I wish more whites had displayed throughout history. He didn’t wait for an opportunity to change baseball and ultimately the country, because he knew that the opportunity would never come. Someone had to actively create the opportunity to fight injustice.

He could have died saying I wish baseball was an integrated sport, but instead of wishing it, he made it happen.

Rickey gave more than the usual passive “support” for blacks. He did more than merely “not doing harm.” He did more than merely comforting himself with the notion that he would have signed a black player if he’d only had the chance. He did more than sympathize and feel bad about the whole thing.

Whether his motive was money, guilt, or fear of what God might say on judgment day, Branch Rickey took unequivocal, decisive action to integrate professional baseball.

We’ll never know if there was another player that Rickey could’ve called on that had both the skill and the courage to take on the challenge of single handedly integrating the entire sport of professional baseball, America’s most beloved sport, but we should rejoice that there was Jack Robinson.

I do. I marvel at the perfect alignment of Rickey’s determination with Robinson’s will and Robinson’s mental and physical preparedness. It was, as we say, perfect timing.

The “Team”

There were players who preferred to be traded rather than play with Robinson. Others remained with the Dodgers but never accepted him as a teammate.

But there were some players who seized the opportunity to prove themselves to be better men, and they were a better team for it.

There were many others, on and off the team, depicted in the film and not, who stepped in one way or another, like the sports writer Wendell Smith.

The Film

The first important thing about history is that it happened. The second important thing is that we remember it. Third, we must learn from it.

Foolish people insist that we forget the past in order to live in the present and move forward to the future. But it’s our past that got us to where we are in the present, and if we want a brighter future, we must learn from that past.

So, thank you to Brian Helgeland and the entire crew, to all of the actors, especially Chadwick Boseman, Nicole Beharie, and Harrison Ford.

I read a commentary that said that 42 might be a little old fashioned and safe for some audiences. It definitely lacks the firestorm of debate that surrounded Django Unchained, even though 42 does use its fair share of the “N” word. And In terms of its depiction of black characters, 42 infinitely outshines movies like The Blind Side.

I think the cast and crew of 42 definitely stepped up to the plate on this one and possibly hit it out of the park.

Now You

After watching the film twice so far, once with my siblings, and a second time with my mother, our initial reaction to some of the scenes was: This still happens!

There’s a line in the movie that sounds like something Rush Limbaugh would say: “This ain’t the America I know!”

It may not be in the field of baseball, but we all need to step up to the plate when it comes to carrying the torch for racial equality and justice.

We all have a role to play.

So I leave you with one question that Jackie Robinson’s character asks the Pittsburgh pitcher and ultimately asks himself at the end of the movie:

What are you afraid of?

Are you afraid to talk about racism because it’s so passé?

Is it too taboo in your circle of post-racial friendships?

Will it make you seem uncool or too uptight?

Will you alienate yourself from your family?

Are you scared that you’ll come out looking like the bad guy or the victim?

Is it too painful? Too frustrating? Too complicated?

Well, a bad thing won’t go away simply because you refuse to talk about it.

You have to have the courage to confront it.

What are you afraid of?

The Courage to be Transparent

Guest Post by Vicki Ward

 

“I believe the most important single thing, beyond discipline and creativity is daring to dare.”— Maya Angelou

 

extreme closeup of asian woman wearing glasses; courage to be transparentNo one knows better than writers, the power of words.

How the right ones at the right time can blanket us with warmth like a good winter quilt.

How they can transform us,  pull at our heartstrings, make us laugh, make us cry.

How a good read enables us to escape to different worlds and broadens our horizons.

How the experience enriches us.

But being a good writer requires more than an extensive vocabulary, a gift to gab, and observance of some grammatical rules. Contrary to the hype, it’s not that simple.

Good writers must possess one other important trait: the courage to be transparent.

Being transparent means “going public” with the warts of our lives.  Like sharing stories of the stupid things we did for the men we loved before they left us, or lessons we learned from being fired, or dealing with demons of insecurity, or even fears of growing old.

Story lines that are written in all of our life’s “script.”

And this takes courage.

Putting our work before hundreds or thousands of readers means we must face the risk of rejection. Over and over again. Whether it’s the rejection of editors for articles we‘ve penned, sending out book proposals to agents to secure a book deal, or a blog post that may potentially bomb like the fireworks on the Fourth of July.

But we do it because our transparency not only allows others to see more of us, but to see more about themselves–and the human potential. It enables them to know that they can overcome some of the same obstacles, doubts, and disappointments we have. That regardless of race, sex, or religion, there is more that unites us than makes us different.

In the spirit of transparency (and celebrating the wisdom of women), my new anthology, More of Life’s Spices: Seasoned sistah’s keeping it real showcases the courage of dozens of women from all walks of life and stages, who reveal their personal journeys and invite you to come along.

Here’s a poem that’s an excerpt from the book:

 

Lo Gig

his game
a lo gig
sleeps with me
behind closed doors

walks
deliberate steps
ahead in public
once a brick house beauty
I suck back tears
remember tender youth
pour my brittle heart
into his arms   frigid   insincere

he
gives me bad sex   quick   painful
cops a crude dime and whine
for rent and cash
dines and wines another

thinks me
dumb and desperate
I  feel
dumb and desperate

bite my tongue as he
bites in his talk
until need rises
then

sweet in his beg
a gigolo
who belittles
and strikes
deathing blows
to my generous
but
closing hand

 


Vicki Ward’s essays and poetry appeared in several anthologies and collections. A former entertainment writer, covering live concerts, and stage plays, her literary focus shifted to writing books about women’s needs and concerns. She edited Life’s Spices from Seasoned Sistahs, an award winning anthology from the voices of mature women of color. She followed that releasing Savvy, Sassy and Bold after 50, a handbook for maturing women packed with financial, health, and retirement strategies for women reaching midlife. Ward has also presented empowerment workshops at women’s conferences and universities. Now retired, she writes full time focused on strategies to empower maturing women to navigate a new phase of their lives.

For more info visit her site at: Nubianimagespublishing.com


Show Me How to Be Courageous: Angela’s Legacy

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Angela Davis shows us how to be courageous The struggle would be difficult, but there was already a hint of victory. In the heavy silence of the jail, I discovered that if I concentrated hard enough, I could hear echoes of slogans being chanted on the other side of the walls. ‘Free Angela Davis.’ ‘Free All Political Prisoners.’ -Angela Davis: An Autobiography, 1974

April 5 is the debut of the documentary film Free Angela and All Political Prisoners.

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty excited that the world can once again be inspired by Angela Davis’s courageous story.

Those who were alive in the 70’s may have forgotten. Those of us who weren’t alive at the time may have have never known.

Indeed, we’ve done a poor job of retelling Angela’s story in our ongoing distribution of American history.

She rarely gets more than a blip in a montage, as if merely showing her face, fro, and fist is enough to convey the gist of her legendary life.

Too many of us, however, aren’t clear about the story beyond these images.

For me, of course, the most resonant theme in her story is courage.

Outside in the open, entangled in my grief and anger was also fear. A plain and simple fear so overwhelming, and so elemental that the only thing I could compare it to was that sense of engulfment I used to feel as a child when I was left alone in the dark. . . . Images of attack kept flashing into my mind, but they were not abstract–they were clear pictures of machine guns breaking out of the darkness, surrounding Helen and me, unleashing fire . . . -AD

Though most of us will never be one of America’s most wanted, Angela’s story can teach us all how to be courageous.

In fact, there’d be no documentary, no story to tell, had Angela not lived courageously in her everyday life, long before the criminal charges or the ensuing manhunt and trial.

One thing I hope Free Angela reveals is that while Angela Davis’s imprisonment and trial is perhaps the more sensational and infamous part of her story, all along, every day of her life, then and now, Angela is a role model for having the courage to think, speak, act, and be revolutionary.

The Courage to Think

I’ve seen the fear in my students . . . the fear of pursuing an education, the fear that it’s not meant for them, not part of their inheritance.

Then there’s the fear of the responsibility that comes with learning.

The fear of what truths may be uncovered if we allow ourselves to follow a thought process through its entire cycle.

As a student and professor of philosophy, Angela Davis embraced the power of thinking . . . of not only learning the thoughts of others, but in having new and original thoughts of one’s own.

She not only had the courage to hold and mold deep thoughts in her mind, she also had the courage to spread them.

The Courage to Speak

We keep silent for fear of exposing our true thoughts.

We keep silent because others have told us we should, told us to keep our thoughts to ourselves.

We’re wordless because we think our words are worthless.

Angela’s example shows us that our words are sometimes the greatest gift we can give to the world, and that we should say what must be said even as others try to silence us.

She shows us that words can save souls, save lives, and stoke revolutionary fires.

The Courage to Act

Nothing in the world made me angrier than inaction, than silence. The refusal or inability to do something, say something when a thing needed doing or saying, was unbearable. The watchers, the head shakers, the back turners made my skin prickle. -AD

Organizing, voting, rallying, marching, visiting, feeding, housing, leading . . .

Some of the greatest words are action verbs.

The beautiful thing about Angela is that she lived among the people, not segregated within her words or intellectual world.

She was a physical presence in the struggle for freedom and justice for all.

She gave her life:

For me revolution was never an interim ‘thing to do’ before settling down; it was no fashionable club with newly minted jargon, or new kind of social life–made thrilling by risk and confrontation, made glamorous by costume. Revolution is a serious thing, the most serious thing about a revolutionary’s life. When one commits oneself to the struggle, it must be for a lifetime. -AD

The Courage to Be

Angela thought, spoke, and acted while being a black women in a world that says blacks can’t think, that women shouldn’t speak, and that any actions by either group to take control of their lives is an automatic threat to society.

She was proud to be black, and she was empowered in her womanhood even in a society that overtly tried to suppress black pride and women’s empowerment.

That’s revolutionary.

By merely being herself, Angela Davis shows us how to be courageous.

This post is a submission in the Black Bloggers Connect contest.

Get your tickets to the New Orleans Area Screening of Free Angela and All Political Prisoners!

 

 

Dr. King: Architect of a Movement

Today is Martin Luther King’s Birthday. I’d like to honor his legacy by sharing one of his sermons which I think perfectly explains how he constructed his life and became the architect of a movement.

The sermon was delivered at New Covenant Baptist Church in Chicago on April 9, 1967. In it, he explains “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life”: length, breadth, and height.

Length

I’d summarize length as self-love and purpose. In King’s words:

And you know what loving yourself also means? It means that you’ve got to accept yourself. So many people are busy trying to be somebody else. God gave all of us something significant. And we must pray every day, asking God to help us to accept ourselves. That means everything. Too many Negroes are ashamed of themselves, ashamed of being black. A Negro got to rise up and say from the bottom of his soul, “I am somebody. I have a rich, noble, and proud heritage. However exploited and however painful my history has been, I’m black, but I’m black and beautiful.” This is what we’ve got to say. We’ve got to accept ourselves. And we must pray, “Lord, Help me to accept myself every day; help me to accept my tools.”

Now the other thing about the length of life: after accepting ourselves and our tools, we must discover what we are called to do. And once we discover it we should set out to do it with all of the strength and all of the power that we have in our systems. And after we’ve discovered what God called us to do, after we’ve discovered our life’s work, we should set out to do that work so well that the living, the dead, or the unborn couldn’t do it any better.

Breadth

Breadth is showing love for others as we do for ourselves.

And a man has not begun to live until he can rise above the narrow confines of his own individual concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.

This is what God needs today: Men and women who will ask, “What will happen to humanity if I don’t help? What will happen to the civil rights movement if I don’t participate? What will happen to my city if I don’t vote? What will happen to the sick if I don’t visit them?” This is how God judges people in the final analysis.

Height

In achieving height, King says we must reach toward God.

Now if life is to be complete, we must move beyond our self-interest. We must move beyond humanity and reach up, way up for the God of the universe

You know, even on this race question, I’m not worried. I was down in Alabama the other day, and I started thinking about the state of Alabama where we worked so hard and may continue to elect the Wallaces. . . . And all of these things can get you confused, but they don’t worry me. Because the God that I worship is a God that has a way of saying even to kings and even to governors, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

And one week I can remember that I had gone through a very difficult week. Threatening calls had come in all day and all night the night before, and I was beginning to falter and to get weak within and to lose my courage. And I never will forget that I went to the mass meeting that Monday night very discouraged and a little afraid, and wondering whether we were going to win the struggle.

But over and over again I can still hear Sister Pollard’s words: “God’s going to take care of you.” So today I can face any man and any woman with my feet solidly placed on the ground and my head in the air because I know that when you are right, God will fight your battle.

When you get all three of these together, you will recognize that out of one blood God made all men to dwell upon the face of the earth.

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