Thoughts On Selma From A NAACP Freedom Fighter Re-Educated On the Movement

Time to say what I learned today about civil rights as I traveled to Dallas County, Ala where the Selma to Montgomery voting rights march began in 1965.

Today's experience in Selma, Ala. will be remembered most because of the tens of thousands who came here to mark the 50th "Bloody Sunday" anniversary
Today’s experience in Selma, Ala. will be remembered most because of the tens of thousands who came here to mark the 50th “Bloody Sunday” anniversary

SELMA, Ala.–  I don’t believe it was a mere coincidence that my NAACP Youth Council Adviser called me on my mobile phone at the moment I was approaching the Edmund Pettus Bridge today.

Mrs. Ora Lomax is still the youth adviser for the NAACP Youth Council in Richmond, Va.  But, she didn’t know I was here in Selma.

My mother didn’t know I was in Selma as a faculty facilitator for more than 200 University of Alabama students traveling to the 50th Bridge Crossing Jubilee.

But, when I called her this evening, she said she saw the live coverage on the national news and asked my father “Where is George?”

Something told her that I probably was somewhere in the vicinity.

Only the good Lord could have orchestrated the chain of events that remind me of my upbringing as a NAACP freedom fighter, who learned about the hows and whys of civil rights marches and direct action as a high school student back in Richmond, Virginia 30 years ago.

The man who was once president of the Richmond NAACP Youth Council today is a life member of the NAACP and still actively seeking to change to world around me wherever it needs to be changed.

New Found Understanding and Context

As I approach my 45th birthday next week,  I am reflective on traveling here to the city that was both a flash point and turning point in Civil Rights Movement.

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 12.36.18 AM Why me, why now? What does it all mean?

Last week, I tweeted that my voting in a Tuscaloosa, Ala.  tax referendum was one of the best ways to honor those who were hurt on “Bloody Sunday.”

Now that I know who Jimmie Lee Jackson, a young black man murdered not far from Selma in Marion, Ala. just before “Bloody Sunday,”  I can say my vote was for him.

If ONLY I had Known Then What I Know Now

Amelia Boynton Robinson in 1965 and recently on her 103rd birthday.  Photo Illustration Courtesy
Amelia Boynton Robinson in 1965 and recently on her 103rd birthday. Photo Illustration Courtesy

In my years as a working broadcast journalist,  I associated Amelia Boynton Robinson with Lyndon LaRouche and not with what happened here in Dallas County, Ala.

Seeing photos of Ms. Robinson this weekend at 103 as she was wheeled across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Saturday  gave me a whole new view of this significant freedom fighter.  I read recently about her experience and saw her depicted in the Eyes on the Prize “Bridge to Freedom” documentary.

I knew about Alabama State University because it was an historically black college in Montgomery.    Until today, I didn’t know that it was the place that birthed so many civil rights leaders and where Dr. Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King stayed after their Montgomery home was bombed.

Dr. Gwendolyn Boyd, President of Alabama State University
Dr. Gwendolyn Boyd, President of Alabama State University

Alabama State President Gwendolyn Boyd told the “ASU Story” in her remarks at Brown Chapel AME this morning.

Her speech set the tone for others who followed in a 3-hour service that was played on a jumbotron on Dallas Avenue as thousands gathered for the Bridge Crossing Jubilee.

I knew the Rev. Jesse Jackson as the 1984 Presidential Candidate/Operation PUSH Leader who’s often over-covered in the media.  Today I saw him lift an offering and quipped about his own fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, Inc.

I knew the Rev. Al Sharpton as the very outspoken African American leader who has his own show, PoliticsNation, on MSNBC.    Today I saw him “preach” for the first time at the Brown Chapel AME Church.    He took a Biblical text and developed it well even as he made some strong points about the current state of voting rights in America.

Crowds gathered on Dallas Avenue and watched the Sunday service from Brown Chapel AME as it was shown on closed-circuit television.
Crowds gathered on Dallas Avenue and watched the Sunday service from Brown Chapel AME as it was shown on closed-circuit television.

My journey to learn more civil rights history isn’t over yet.    But, I promise you it will definitely inform my civil rights present.

As a diversity instructor, who also teaches media literacy, there is an inherent social justice component to what we do.  It’s not enough to sensitize students to poverty or injustice if you don’t advocate for them to use whatever tools they have to do something about it.

I believe that comes through in my work as a faculty member at the University of Alabama working to inspire students of from all racial backgrounds, regions of the country and world.    It’s one of the GREATEST privileges I have.

Journalist and Freedom Fighter

You can be a freedom fighter and be a journalist.    You can use the power of the pen to tell important stories.

You can use your skills as a scholar to create knowledge and provide context, sometimes context to spur a reader to take action.

That’s my story.

At 44 years, 11 months and 20+ days,  I have learned at least that much.

Renewing A Christmas Eve Tradition at Richmond’s First Baptist

I’m still awash in the glow of the significance of participating in the 230th observance of Christmas at the church that sits at the intersection of Monument Avenue and The Boulevard. While much has changed at First Baptist Church, many of the traditions like Christmas Even Candlelight service have held for decades.

RICHMOND, Va.– It’s already Christmas Day here in Virginia’s capital city, my hometown and the place I have always spent the Christmas holidays.  Unlike the last decade or so, tonight I renewed a tradition from my childhood of worshipping on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve Service was held December 24, 2010 at Richmond's First Baptist Church. This photo was taken by Steve Perky for the church's Web site.

More than once my parents would take us (my brother and me) to First Baptist on Monument Avenue for the Christmas Eve Candlelight service. Somehow when we got older, other tasks seemed to take priority on this night.  But, less than an hour after extinguishing our candles, I’m still awash in the glow of the significance of participating in the 230th observance of Christmas at the church that sits at the intersection of Monument Avenue and The Boulevard.

As Steve Perky’s photo shows above, the sanctuary was full for the 5 p.m. service, the first two observances this evening.   I realized when I arrived at about 4:50 p.m., that my chances of finding a parking space and a seat were pretty slim.   So I decided to return for the 11 p.m. service.  Boy, I’m glad I did.

First Baptist Church is recognized as one of the city’s oldest churches and among the oldest in the state of Virginia.  It is the sister congregation to my home church, the First African Baptist Church, which is located on Hanes Avenue in the city’s north side.   Up until 1841 when First Baptist moved to a new edifice at 11th and Broad, we were one church located in downtown Richmond near what today is 14th and Broad Streets.

It is hard to believe it’s been 30 years since I participated in a dramatic production marking our mutual bicentennial celebrations in 1980.    I was only 10 years old at the time.  I played the role of a young Lott Carey, a missionary sent forth from First Baptist Church.

The walk down memory lane is not what is important tonight.

The significance of returning to First Baptist

Instead, I’m amazed at how while the pastors have changed at BOTH First African and First Baptist twice since 1980 (Dr. Luther Joe Thompson was the pastor at First Baptist at the time.   Dr. Peter James Flamming succeeded him and has retired, though he was in attendance at tonight’s service), some things have remained the same.

The old hymns, the liturgy associated with the traditional Baptist church, the unique experience of lighting candles at midnight on Christmas Eve–  all practices that haven’t changed.

The new pastor, Dr. James Somerville, connected with me in his Christmas Eve message on the expectation and anticipation that comes with preparing for Christ’s birth.  Preaching what’s perhaps the most familiar verse in the Old Testament book of Isaiah, Somerville tonight challenged the sometimes limited analyses of the Old Testament scholars.   (He’s also connected with me because he’s ALSO a blogger— a WordPress Blogger, I might add)

He connected his “Christmas Eve Meditation” to a series of Sunday sermons from Isaiah during the season of Advent, the six-week period in the Christian church that leads up to Christmas.   I can’t wait to get recordings of some of these messages.  (I see that some are available for download from the FIrst Baptist Web site)  We’ve been studying Isaiah all of this month as part of the International Sunday School Lesson.

For me, tonight’s service was not about reliving the past or reminiscing about how things once were.  It was about meeting Jesus in a different way than I have in the last decade.

It was also about looking at the role of my own choices for the holiday through the lens of 40 years of living on this earth.   It was about seeing how things have changed at First Baptist, yet how they remain the same.

Not all traditions are bad.  It’s when they limit our ability to see God in a different way that they become a problem.

A Forward-Looking First Baptist?

Clearly the people of the 2010 First Baptist Church have a young, new leader and according to the latest edition (Winter 2010/2011) of their internal publication, First Things First, a forward-looking community-centric focus.    You can see that by the faces of those who attended tonight’s service.   The diverse congregation of attendees at this 11 p.m. candlelight service would seem to reflect the 21st century church that still must remind the World about the importance of the birth fo Christ.

Thanks to Dr. Somerville, I was reminded of it — the importance of the birth of Christ– in a interesting/exciting way.    I hope that Richmond’s First Baptist and First African Baptist congregations can renew another tradition soon– that of periodically worshipping and praying together.

I have a feeling that Dr. Somerville and the First African Baptist pastor. Dr. Rodney Waller, will find commonalities in their approaches to spreading the Gospel and being a force in the Richmond community.

It’s good to be HOME.. and it was great to be at First Baptist this Christmas Eve.