Monday, March 23, 2015

Humans of Tuskegee

I am now starting to realize that as a child, I may not have actually seen Dr. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks as actual, real people. When I was first introduced to them both in the first grade, my little six-year-old head processed them and accepted them as legends, two giants that were to be placed on a pedestal. Fast forward twelve years, and I still seemed to have trouble reconciling these two legendary figures and the humans that they were. In doing so, however, I was doing a disservice to both myself and to their accomplishments.

Today, we started our day with a talk by Dr. Bernard Lafayette, a human rights activist who played a leading role in the Civil Rights movement. Dr. Lafayette shared with us one particular story, of a time when he was in Colombia teaching nonviolent practices to a village in Colombia. The village needed to learn the tactics to defend itself against a group that came by to steal the village's coffee beans. Once that particular group saw the importance of those nonviolent tactics, however, it kidnapped Dr. Lafayette and a few others that had come to help. A few hours into the kidnapping, at approximately 2:30 PM, Dr. Lafayette turned to one of the guards of the group and said, "Quiero comer," or "I want food," before sitting down on a rock and demanding,"AquĆ­!," or "here!." When I had finished laughing at the thought of such a ridiculous situation, I looked back at the man at the front of the room with a look of awe. Getting to hear the powerful, yet very human stories and comments of Dr. Lafayette in person awakened me to the fact that the same historical figures that we studied in our textbooks are simply human beings. Like the rest of us, Dr. Lafayette also concerned himself with hunger. Sometimes, it's even a priority for him. What was even more incredible, however, was realizing that this was a man, who was not afraid to lose his life for what he believed in. He went to Colombia to teach nonviolence and to help a village that was being oppressed. He was kidnapped for those same reasons. He wasn't afraid, or regretful in his decision, he took it all in stride. His story reflected courage and humanity.

With my new lens on the many great figures of the Civil Rights movement, I realize now the importance of seeing these men and women for the human beings that they were and are. Their actions and legacy are made even greater because they are human. Their humanity led them to take greater risks and to achieve greatness. More than that, however, their humanity makes them a source of inspiration and hope for us. They stand in our history as role models, as men and women who did not just stumble upon greatness, but who worked for it. They are the humans that we can all strive to be.