Learning to Stand

February is Black History Month. I don't know nearly as much as I should.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the 60's: about the protests and the music, the riots and the love-in's, the politics and the expressions of freedom, life, of love, and of a nation that seemed from an outsider's view 45 years after the fact to be at once divided, together, and above all, driven to action. I think about all this, and I look at events that are occurring in our times now, and I wonder what the youth of the 60's would have said about it.

I decided to go out and pick up a couple books to start learning a little more. Originally, I only wanted to point out what I was currently reading, and ask if anyone out there had any ideas for further reading so I could get a better foundation for what transpired back then. But somehow I can't seem to leave it at that. Maybe it's shame, maybe it's anger, but I think that we're all facing something in the air today that begs for action, begs for response.

About 15 years ago I borrowed my wife's copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X and read it. Something in that book made me start to want to learn more about those people who stood up against the twisted views and established norms that pervaded the world at different times. Whether it was Martin Luther King marching and rallying thousands, or Rosa Parks refusing to move to the back of the bus, I would get a lump in my throat and a tightening in my chest thinking of the pain and bravery needed to commit, and the pain and sorrow of knowing why it was necessary. And these were only the most visible, the figureheads for a movement that was comprised of hundreds, thousands of nameless people who were beaten, arrested, or even killed in the name of being given the same fundamental rights and courtesies we now give pets in Beverly Hills.

Today Spot can ride the bus or the plane, can sit in the restaurant and eat along with everyone else. Not even 50 years ago a large portion of our human population had to drink from separate water fountains.

From the American Civil Rights Movement I expanded into the rest of the 60's: the Vietnam War, the Democratic National Convention, the shootings at Kent State University in 1970. Everywhere you looked there was outrage. Boycotts, civil disobedience, rallies in Washington, riots in the streets. For better or worse, America stood up and lashed out, sometimes peacefully, sometimes violently, but always out, always forward.

It still happens now. I know that we are not a country so completely apathetic and self absorbed that we won't stand up and let our voices be heard when major events threaten to disrupt our way of life. I get a little choked up when I think about how many people were up in arms over Janet Jackson's exposed breast during the Super Bowl, or how libraries across the country seemed to band together to ban a children's book awarded the coveted Newberry Medal because it contained the word "scrotum."

I just get choked up in a different way.

This post continued to become more and more unfocused, more confusing, and I apologize. It's because I'm woefully ignorant of the events I'm talking about, I know. But I'm working hard to learn, and grow as a result. That adage about "learning from the past" never felt so real to me as it has these past couple of weeks.