The first movie (without Jiminy Cricket) I remember seeing in grade school was The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, starring Cicely Tyson. The teacher wheeled in the television, pulled all the shades, and we sat on the floor with our legs crossed (I am ashamed now that we called it Indian style – I won’t any longer – when you know better, you do better). It felt important, and it was. Miss Pittman aged before us like magic. And I wasn’t sure if it was happening in real time. I was so young, and television was still magic, and I didn’t know if Cicely Tyson was young, or if she too, was 100 years old. I know when she drank from the “whites only” fountain at the end, I cried. I know I went home from our all white classroom to our white house and talked to my mom about it. But what did I say? What did she say? I’m not sure. I hope we talked about the civil right movement. But did we? I can’t be sure.
And in a blink of an eye, as quickly as Ms. Tyson aged on that screen, she did the same in real life, and the year became 2021. She died a few days ago. I wonder if it felt as fast to her. Two blinks. Two lifetimes. Has anything changed? I can’t be sure.
Blessed Assurance. The choir sang it to her, with her, around her, at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2015. She was being honored for her lifetime achievements – so yes, some things were changing. But were they really? People were marching in the streets with signs of Black Lives Matter. Things hadn’t changed enough. People are still questioning it. People aren’t assured. I think the best explanation I have heard for the Black Lives Matter movement is this — I know people say, well, all lives matter, we should just say all… and yes, all lives do matter, but now, now more than ever, we need to recognize this movement. Take for example, when a country or a state has a problem, a hurricane, an earthquake, a shooting, we post their flags on facebook – saying Spain matters, or Texas matters – and we raise up their symbols or flags. In doing so, we aren’t saying that other countries don’t matter, other states don’t matter, but we are saying at this time, our neighbors, our friends, in this hour of need, they matter. Well, my friends, in this hour (because we are here now, no magic of screens) our black friends need us – they need us to raise their flag and say that they matter. In doing so, I think, I have to believe, that that blessed assurance can, and will come.
I don’t have the innocence of youth to rely on. I have to be better, because I know better. We all have to be better. We have to talk about the difficult things, the important things, and make action of our words, live out the lessons we have been taught, from Miss Jane Pittman, to Martin Luther King, to Maya Angelou…when we know better, we do better. Stacey Abrams can’t be the only verb in our sentence. We must all be in the conversation, the difficult, uncomfortable, growth of humanity. Because isn’t that where all the blessings lie, in these difficult, most beautiful truths?
It all goes so fast, but I want to capture a moment between the blinks. I want to be sure that I tried. Blessed Assurance, in knowing we tried. Let’s roll up the shades, and let a little more light in.