Black History Month 2015: Selma and Passing the Torch

To mark Black History Month: A Century of Black Life, History and Culture, The AGF explores today’s Movement for Black Lives in a series of posts from Hero Citizens within our community and beyond. The last installment (read the entire series from the beginning) is from Ravi Perry, a member of The Andrew Goodman Foundation Millennial Advisory Committee.

As Black History Month 2015 closes, I’m reminded of the blood, sweat and tears of our brave children and young people. The calendar may have changed to a new month with a new and important historic theme, but by no means, does that give us the right to move on from Black History Month.

A lot happened this February of Black History. Interestingly, one of our best moments was found in award shows. Both the Oscars and the Grammys, featured historic moments. Common and John Legend wrote the song, “Glory” for the hit film “Selma.” Ultimately winning the film’s only Oscar, the song is a powerful testament to the strength of culture, political socialization and collective memory.

In the poignant lyrics, the artists link past civil rights struggles with current civil rights battles. The talented duo’s words seek to bridge the tenacity of the older with the vigor of the younger.

“That’s why Rosa sat on the bus.That’s why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up.”

From 1955 to 2015. Same battle, different players. By linking Rosa Parks’ defiance with the protests in Ferguson, Glory informs how Selma bellows the spirit of social change:

“Selma’s now for every man, woman and child.”

The continuing consequences of injustice is truly paramount in the words merging 60 years of protest for social change for all Americans.  Those legacies of discrimination, violence and second class citizenship, Common and John Legend remind, were dismantled by a coalition. In their acceptance speech upon receiving the coveted Oscar for Glory, the artists highlight how “Selma is now” and that it transcends social status, race, sexual orientation, gender, religion, and so on: the fight for democracy in Hong Kong; the protests in France – these events are all reflections of Selma.

Most significant, though, is how the musicians boldly stated that whatever progress we’ve achieved is because of people of different generations working together:

“It takes the wisdom of the elders and young people’s energy.”

Most of us might not have ever known of Rosa Parks or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., if it weren’t for E.D. Nixon. We might not have learned of John Lewis or Diane Nash, had it not been for Ella Baker. And the list goes on. In every movement, in every successful cause, generations of difference worked together. Last month, The Andrew Goodman Foundation reminded us of that intergenerational significance as well when it hosted the historic dialogue with Dr. Clarence B. Jones, adviser to Dr. King and Jamilah Lemieux of Ebony.

Hence, our commitment to Black History must not become history on March 1st.  Instead, we must do as “Glory” reminds and every successful social justice effort reminds – continue to pass the torch. Imagine what our lives would be like had E.D. Nixon not invited Dr. King to lead the Montgomery Improvement Association?  Imagine what our lives would be like had Daisy Bates not supported the Little Rock Nine?

Common and John Legend help us to understand in riveting prose and vocals that the steps of activists of the past are not unlike the steps of activists today. Young people are leading the way. Older generations are passing the torch. And the fight for justice remains.

Glory comes in generations working together. “Welcome to the story we call victory.”

About the Author

Ravi K. Perry is the Vice President at the National Association for Ethnic Studies, a member of the Board of Directors at ACLU Mississippi, and is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Mississippi State University. Follow Ravi on Twitter: @raviperry