Monday, January 19, 2009

Reflecting on Dr. King and the 44th President

Today is Martin Luther King's birthday- a federal holiday in the United States. While to some it's just a day to get a paid holiday from work- to others, like me, it's a time for genuflection. From Martin Luther King- to Barak Obama, how much this country has come in my short lifetime.

I want to share something- a story that transpired when I was four years old. A memory locked in my babyhood/toddlerhood, but still left an impact. My family as visiting my father's brother in Alabama, one summer. My mother was somewhere with me, four, and my sister, two. She had to take a bus to get back to my Uncle's house. She was on line behind a black woman and a small infant in her arms. The bus driver told the woman to get in the back of the bus, and used the "N" word. My mother heard every word the driver said and told him to apologize. He looked at my mother, and said "Lady, this isn't the North, It's Alabama".

My mother turned around, picked up my sister, and walked off the bus. To applause. And we walked back home, and I was hot, tired and cranky. I didn't understand it. It was the late 60s. Years later, same town, I was 12. I understood it then. Because my mother told me one thing that has stayed with me my entire lifetime.

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn't a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

Martin Niemöller

I am honored to call Therese Bouchard a friend. I really am. She has a post today which starts off like this

I have a dream that one day I won't hold my breath every time I tell a person that I suffer from bipolar disorder, that I won't feel shameful in confessing my mental illness.

I have a dream that people won't feel the need to applaud me for my courage on writing and speaking publicly about my disease, because the diagnosis of depression and bipolar disorder would be understood no differently than that of diabetes, arthritis, or dementia.

Please read it. Today, and tomorrow when Barak Obama becomes the next president, and we can honestly say how far as a country we have come. Now to work on rights for the Mentally Ill.


Ana said...

Your mother is an angel.
Ive read Therese's post. It was the first time I visited her site.
Very inspiring!
Hope you're better.

Anonymous said...

Your mother is an inspiration. By the way, first they came for people with disabilities, particularly folks with psychiatric disabilities, we were the first ones they tried out the gas chamber on in psychiatric hospitals in the T-4 program, patients killed by their own psychhiatrists, family sent home urns with explanation of "natural causes".

Anthony said...

Bravo to your mom. It isn't necessary to stand by and watch things like that regardless of where you are. "This is Alabama" isn't a valid reason.

Once President Obama is in office I'll have sufficient time to sit back and digest all that has happened.
It doesn't seem like all that long ago that the notion of a black president was only a notion. Mostly because the people who were in the forefront were way too radical for "regular Americans." It would take someone of great character, energy and integrity to fulfill the promise. Not only do I think the next 8 years will be fun and interesting, I think Doctor King would be proud of us.

susan said...

@Ana, yes, my mother is an angel. I have learned a lot from her. You are an angel too.

@Hymes, thank you. I remember the quote with people with disabilities, but when I actually looked it up, this was the actual quote. But you are right and we shouldn't forget.

@Anthony, thanks. Who would have thought in the 40 years since "I had a dream", the dream would be a black president? Awesome. Good day to be alive.

Dano MacNamarrah said...


I am so impressed with your mother. So many would have tried to block their eyes and ears. I have always loved that poem, which I first read when I was about twelve.

Just as Harvey Milk exhorted fellow gays and lesbians to "out" themselves, I feel it is our duty also.

I went to a lecture by Temple Grandin last week. One audience member asked her if they should let their boss know that they are Autistic.

My feeling is that the more we can put a face to a mental diagnoses, the more we can dismiss the myths and stigma surrounding our illness.

And that's all that it is, an illness. Not something to be ashamed of.

Katharine said...

1. Wow. That story from your childhood is very moving. I love bookend stories about understanding - maybe just because I can relate to them, but I'm sure many can - where something important happens and impacts you, and then years later, something parallel in some way bookends it for you, and the difference in your perceptions of the two events gives you some sort of understanding.

2. Do you know if Therese's blog has an RSS/atom/xml/whatever feed? I can't find it, and I keep coming across her blog and wanting to follow it, but I'm DREADFUL about following blogs w/o RSS feeds... if you have the url of such a feed, I might just love you forever if you gave it to me!

Sherry said...

Imagine--a mother who does social action AND chicken soup! Very cool.

Related Posts with Thumbnails