The sun began to set, slightly changing the color of the horizon and the shadows of the trees. Looking out the window, I saw countless cars pass by with passengers going to or coming from some place different. Some would move north towards New York and lose daylight. Others would chase the sun and extract a few extra minutes of its warmth. Yet others simply moved in one direction or the other but with no purpose.
As I sat on my long bus ride back to Washington, D.C., I reflected upon my trip to Reverend Al Sharpton’s “Advancing the Dream: Live from the Apollo,” which was held on the evening of Friday, September 6th. The texts from my friends and family had stopped at this point, but I scrolled through and reminded myself of the excitement of being on live, national television. Before my trip, I was certainly fixated on that fact; representing Howard University with a small group of students so early as a freshman turned some heads and definitely made me popular at George Washington Carver Hall, my residence hall. But somewhere on the way back to my new home at Howard University, I came upon a more lasting reason for my visit to New York.
I realized that my trip was much more important than a few seconds of airtime. This is because ‘civil rights’ does not mean, ‘African American Rights.’ We do not enjoy civil rights as Muslims, Jews, Christians, or Hindus. We do not enjoy civil rights as Italians, Indians, Africans, or Asians. We enjoy civil rights not separately, but together, as Americans.
I liken the evolution of the Civil Rights movement to the development of penicillin, which was discovered by accident to be a panacea for several maladies most notably Influenza. The movement’s benefits are as varied as the rainbow and as far reaching as the sunshine.
The Civil Rights movement was no accident, but like penicillin, the impact of its discovery is universal. Although the Civil Rights movement was aimed towards improving the lives of African Americans, Dr. Martin Luther King’s revolution gentrified all of American society. Not only did it bolster the African American community and propel one of its members to the position of Secretary of State and ultimately to the White House, but it leveled the playing field directly or indirectly for numerous movements and groups to come; Women’s suffrage, the LGBT group, the Latino block, the minimum wage earners, the farm workers. The colored revolution shattered the glass ceiling and made thousands of holes for every common American and created screaming testimonies of aspirations and ambitions. Now, every immigrant family exhorts its offspring to aspire to be the next Barrack Obama. To paraphrase Cornel West, we are destined to feel the fire of the African American community’s soul so our “intellectual blues” can set others on fire. The bellowing smoke coming out of the chimney of the African American community warms up every American’s house. Even on the world stage, the American Civil Rights movement affected numerous revolutions. The downfall of apartheid can trace its trajectory in the U.S. civil rights, movement as can the Arab Spring.
I wondered all day why I was representing Howard University given that I am an Asian American student at an HBCU (historically black colleges and universities), but it turned out to be nothing about my ethnicity and all about the common bonds I share with all my brothers and sisters in this country.
1963 has passed, but the struggle has not. With the culmination of recent events, one could argue that the struggle has only just begun. But hardship is no reason to accept defeat. As the inheritors of this country, we must perceive the acute need, endure the growing pains, and evaluate the solutions. Only then can we become beacons of knowledge and peace and expect our country to be the same on the global spectrum.
The sun will never set for those who set out to make its light their own.