Jeneé Osterheldt

We still have the dream of ‘Selma’

From left: Tessa Thompson as Diane Nash, Omar Dorsey as James Orange, Colman Domingo as Ralph Abernathy, David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr., André Holland as Andrew Young, Corey Reynolds as Rev. C.T. Vivian and Lorraine Toussaint as Amelia Boynton in “Selma.”
From left: Tessa Thompson as Diane Nash, Omar Dorsey as James Orange, Colman Domingo as Ralph Abernathy, David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr., André Holland as Andrew Young, Corey Reynolds as Rev. C.T. Vivian and Lorraine Toussaint as Amelia Boynton in “Selma.” Paramount Pictures

“Selma” shatters all concepts of hopelessness.

I went to an early screening of the new docudrama about Martin Luther King Jr. and the fight for civil rights — specifically the right to vote — for black Americans. When I came home that Tuesday night, I saw news so eerily timed I had to check twice: A homemade pipe bomb exploded outside of the NAACP office in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Thankfully, no one was hurt. But it still made me think of the murder of four little girls in 1963 after a bomb detonated beneath the steps of an Alabama church. That painful moment in American history yanks the tears out of your eyes in “Selma.”

The movie makes it clear: It’s 2015, and the headlines aren’t far removed from 50 years ago.

“It really saddens me,” Henry D. Allen Jr., NAACP Colorado Springs chapter president, told The New York Times in one of the few stories about the incident. “I do look at the ’50s and ’60s when there were bombings, there were lynchings.… When those who say that civil rights is no longer an issue, we’re going back to that destructive mentality. I tell them the fight is still on.”

I walked away from “Selma” understanding exactly that — we cannot sit on our hands while the country crumbles into division and hate. We must stay steadfast in our commitment to equality, justice and everyday humanity.

As much as things have changed, they’ve remained the same. And when you think about it, 50 years isn’t all that long ago. Our country is still divided along economic, racial and social lines. The devastating deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and tragic police killings have pushed the #blacklivesmatter and #bluelivesmatter movements while echoing protests of the past.

All lives have to matter, and all hands, of all colors, must be on deck on this long walk to freedom. That is how the 1965 protest in Selma was victorious. People from all over the country, from all walks of life, came together.

With the odds against them, with local government and racist extremists beating them down, they continued to stand up for equality. They defended themselves with faith and determination and unity. There is much to be learned from our history, as shown in the movie.

“Just as the answers 50 years ago revolved around voting, today’s issues revolve around jobs, the economy, gender, culture, religion and healing,” wrote Andrew Young, the former mayor of Atlanta who worked with King and is portrayed in the movie by André Holland of “42.”

“But now we know that we can. Because of the miracle of Selma in 1965 and today as a film in 2015, we can bear witness and embrace the powerful belief that we shall overcome.”

Remaining silent while so many suffer is not an option. We can’t just believe in the idea of overcoming, we have to overcome. They fought for the right to vote, and we must use it. They demanded our voices be heard, and it’s time we have something to say. We have the power. It’s time we learn how to use it.

To reach Jeneé Osterheldt, call 816-234-4380 or email josterheldt@kcstar.com. “Like” her page on Facebook and never miss a column. On Twitter @jeneeinkc.

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