One hundred forty-seven years ago today, the 54th Regiment (Black) infantry was formed in 1863, Executive Order 9981, to end segregation in the U.S. Armed Forces. It was signed by President Harry S. Truman in 1948. Today also marks the 71st birthday of my late great father, Lorenzo Washington. He served in the U.S. Army for more than five years, in the mid 50’s and right after this very order was signed.
Many of us are faithfully preparing to celebrate the historical period we’ve long known as Black History Month. The remaining of us that are a bit more conscious, further recognize that February is not a month in which we should commemorate our legendary heroes, then “drop the ball”, yet again, and once the month has ended. Rather, we identify that Dr. Carter G. Woodson’s initiation of this very evolution in 1926 was intended to becoming a daily, conscious responsibility amongst us all, and one that we must employ ourselves. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best; Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.
On an analogous note, this past weekend my children and I went to see the highly acclaimed movie, AVATAR. After weeks of social commentary and tons of critiques and reviews, I simply wanted to see what the hype of this paradigm shifting, second-highest-grossing film of all time was all about. To say the least, I was attentively and unexpectedly surprised. Though beautifully animated with a compelling story line, it was thought-provoking, undiluted and existent. The people of Pandora believed in their innate powers to heal, contribute to and sustain their land. They demonstrated humility, resilience and character and developed enough vigor to make a difference for themselves and the land their ancestors bestowed them. We must employ the same.
In the movie, both the Na’vi warrior princess, Neytiri, and the “conscious” human marine, Jake Sully realized in the end, that despite their different civilizations, on the inside their hearts were the same. Their “mantra”, I See You, shed light on the magnitude in which we tend to see each other.
Yes, my neighbor is my sister and I am my brothers’ keeper. When I see abandoned children, I see our children; when I see the devastation in Haiti, Sri Lanka, New Orleans, New York and around the globe, I see you; when I see God, I see you too. We must cross over the barriers, the color lines, the status quo and the mediocrity. We must find our place and take our stance.
Just like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the 54th Regiment Infantry, my father Lorenzo Washington, and the people of Pandora, everyone – plays an integral role. These were all ordinary people, who became everyday heroes. We still have much work to do and many miles to go, but a little hope goes a very long way.