Courtesy of MCT
I have heard on repeat that “courage is at the summit of fear.” Sometimes I take baby steps toward courage, but when I think about feats of courage, I cannot help but to think of the Freedom Riders. This past week celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first wave of college students and everyday citizens getting on a bus and going through the South to disrupt the Jim Crow laws that existed to keep life in America separate and unequal.
During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the original group of folks who would go to the South were members of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Their tactics were aimed at desegregating public transportation throughout the South. Testing the Supreme Court case that was started in Virginia, the 13 original Freedom Riders had to press against the hardest of circumstances and tell their mothers, fathers and families that death was a price worth paying to end the embedded racism in American culture and society.
I think that for many of us on campus today, we do not understand sacrifice in this way. Sure, some of us have done favors for people or participated in philanthropy, but to believe in something so widely and deeply that it was worth one’s own life is very seldom practiced outside the beautiful service of the military. Patriotism is tried on like a pair of Sperry’s boat shoes, as something that can be celebrated like the same rituals for football games.
I think about the white folks on that ride. White people willing to forsake their white privileges at that time to stand in solidarity with black folks who were still being treated as less than human is the kind of love and patriotism that is authentic. To “unravel the truth” of segregation and give access to every person is inviting all people to take part in the American dream.
During WWII as black men were serving in the military, the Red Cross would not take blood donations from black people. The point here is that at the time, black people’s blood was considered tainted and for the lack of scientific evidence at the time to state otherwise, racism ruled the biology. That may seem strange now, but when black families attempted to donate, they were told that their blood could not mix with white person’s blood. Yet, black soldiers were giving their lives and could not get adequate care; their patriotism was not valued because of their race.
I believe now, as a nation, we are at a new summit in which we can learn to be courageous about justice, equality and humanity. We can learn to agree that all life is valuable and important. There is no need to be arrogant in my citizenship; I have to tap into the global citizenship.
When those Freedom Riders boarded buses, most of them had already signed their last will and testimony. That was how strong their patriotism was. They were passionate and committed to community and equality for all people. I think about how I see courage in some of my friends today. If we choose to overcome the little things, that will prepare us for the bigger challenges that lie ahead.
My friend Danielle recently donated her hair to Locks of Love in which a wig will be made for a person living with cancer. Her courage to part with all her beautiful hair feeds the courage for a person to fight for their life. Loving one’s country is first achieved by loving its people. We can all demonstrate courage if we make little sacrifices everyday.