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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”