Behind The Scenes

Experiencing Selma With Oprah And Our Civil Rights Legends

Last week, I attended Oprah’s celebration for civil rights legends and screening of the film “Selma” (premiering Christmas day) and  I cannot stop thinking about how extraordinary of an experience that I had.

It was a weekend long event, where I got to meet our civil right’s leaders, and discuss how we can change our country’s future. In a theater in Santa Barbara, California, remarkable people like Robin Roberts, Shonda Rhimes, and Ed Gordon filled the room. We all watched the film “Selma,” which was brilliantly directed by Ava DuVernay. Selma was equal parts sobering as it was inspiring. It was also raw, honest and powerful in its depiction of Dr. Martin Luther King’s fight for racial equality and subsequent peaceful protest march in Selma, Alabama.

 

Reverend Joseph Lowery helped to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He has fought against prejudice and discrimination against African Americans for more than 50 years.

Reverend Joseph Lowery helped to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He has fought against prejudice and discrimination against African Americans for more than 50 years.

Berry Gordy, Jr. is an American record producer, and songwriter. He is best known as the founder of the Motown record label, as well as its many subsidiaries. Smokey Robinson is an American R&B and pop singer-songwriter, record producer, and former record executive. Robinson was the founder and front man of the Motown vocal group the Miracles, for which he also served as the group's chief songwriter and producer.

Berry Gordy, Jr. is an American record producer, and songwriter. He is best known as the founder of the Motown record label, as well as its many subsidiaries. Smokey Robinson is an American R&B and pop singer-songwriter, record producer, and former record executive. Robinson was the founder and front man of the Motown vocal group the Miracles, for which he also served as the group’s chief songwriter and producer. Together these men used their gift of music, the universal language, to join black people and white people in song. And much of their music became the soundtrack for the period.

Afterwards, we all joined hands in prayer at a dinner that honored the very men and women whose lives we had just seen portrayed in the film. Heroes like John Lewis, Dick Gregory, Julian Bond and Diane Nash.

Discussions in the room reflected both gratitude for how far our leaders brought us, as well as frustration with how far we still have to go, especially in light of the recent brutal murders of Black men by police officers who were allowed to walk away free, leaving many of we Americans – black and white- feeling angry, robbed and abused by a system that is failing us.

As a college student, Julian Bond was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1960. In 1998 he was appointed chairman of the NAACP and served until 2010 when he resigned at the age of 70. He continues to fight for civil rights and rights for all human beings. Diane Nash a leader and strategist of the student wing of the 1960's movement. Her efforts included the first successful Civil Rights Campaign to integrate lunch counters, the Freedom Riders, and founding the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the Selma voting rights movement campaign. In 2003 she was awarded the distinguished American award from the John F Kennedy Library and foundation.

As a college student, Julian Bond was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1960. In 1998 he was appointed chairman of the NAACP and served until 2010 when he resigned at the age of 70. He continues to fight for civil rights and rights for all human beings.
Diane Nash a leader and strategist of the student wing of the 1960’s movement. Her efforts included the first successful Civil Rights Campaign to integrate lunch counters, the Freedom Riders, and founding the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the Selma voting rights movement campaign. In 2003 she was awarded the distinguished American award from the John F Kennedy Library and foundation.

The weekend with our civil rights leaders reminded us all that not only do we have the power and obligation to continue to push for human rights, respect and equality, but being in the presence of these men and women refueled us, filled us with energy and strength to carry on.

For me, it was so much more than a party.

When Martin Luther King gave his historic “I Have a Dream” speech, I was barely 1 year old. I was one of the “little black girls” he dreamed for.

Because of him and so many other men and women, I have been able to live in a world that they could only imagine. A world, while not perfect, has allowed me to live for the most part as I choose.

Sydney Poiter and Kimberly Elise

Sydney Poitier is a living example of how the civil rights positively affected the presence of black actors in Hollywood. He was one of the first black actors to pull away from the stereotypical roles of black actors at the time giving dignity and humanity to all his characters. This affected the potential of all black actors and gave white audiences a more accurate image of African Americans. Sydney said his role in the movement was to, “desegregate the entire cultural statement of America” Mr. Poitier went on to be the first African American to win an Academy Award for Best Actor.

I can eat where I want, marry who I want, I can vote.

These may seem like small things today, but these rights we so easily take for granted were paid for in the cost of the lives and deaths of many women and men. I strive every day to live up to what they dreamed of for me: both in my life and in my art; in the way I raise my daughters to be respectful, kind, giving, self-respecting and socially aware and active women; to the acting parts I choose to use my gift for.

Comedian and social activist, Duck Gregory used his performance skills to convey to both white and black audiences his political messages on civil rights. His social satire help change the way white Americans perceive black Americans. He has devoted his life speaking up for and fighting tirelessly for equal rights for all human beings.

Comedian and social activist, Dick Gregory used his performance skills to convey to both white and black audiences his political messages on civil rights. His social satire help change the way white Americans perceive black Americans. He has devoted his life speaking up for and fighting tirelessly for equal rights for all human beings.

I understand that the roles I play in film and television often form the opinions of others who may not encounter African Americans in their daily lives and instead define us through what they see in art and media. It is important to me that we are recognized as the intelligent, powerful, loving people that we are.

This tone, for me, was set by those that came before me and I honor that deeply.

John Lewis: The only living "Big 6" leader of the American civil rights movement having been chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) he played a key role in the struggle to end legalized racial discrimination and segregation.

John Lewis: The only living “Big 6” leader of the American civil rights movement having been chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) he played a key role in the struggle to end legalized racial discrimination and segregation.

So, for me, the weekend was so much more than a party. It was an opportunity for me to personally go to each leader who attended the event and say, “Thank you. Thank you for your sacrifices. I hope you realize it was not in vain and that I live everyday to make you proud.”

What do you think WE can do as community members to change the political climate in our country ?

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6 Comments

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    jean
    December 16, 2014 at 9:00 am

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on your weekend. With knowledge there is power. We may have failed in sharing the struggle with our children. They must know the history of us to understand how far we have come. We are not there yet and need to focus our attention on educating and training our children so that they can continue to work towards a better future.

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    Cindy Holmes
    December 13, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    I was very humbled to have shared your wonderful experience with all the great legends. Keep on doing great things.

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    Corinne Hammond
    December 13, 2014 at 6:04 am

    Well for me it start at home you teach your kids how to live in this day and age teach them to respect the next person and you teach your kids and your grandkids this will start a change no more respect in this world and no more color line a person is a person no matter what I have seen the change

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    Jessica Oladumiye
    December 13, 2014 at 5:26 am

    Equality educational curriculum for all American Schools, specifically for under privileged communities. Outdated textbooks, lack of engagement from educational instructors, lack of funding for after school programs and lack of parent/teacher engagement, leads to the decline in societal success in the future of minorities.

    I believe if we are able to target this social issue, we can begin to make progress in a brighter future of successful minorities to fulfill their dreams and once again hope.

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