As we come upon both the day commemorating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and with Black History Month just around the corner, I imagine (hopefully) that many of us will be reflecting on our history, progress, and shared collective responsibility in the midst of many ongoing injustices. The difficulty of celebrating civil rights achievements lies in the fact that we are simultaneously reminded of how far we must go to improve the conditions all marginalized people in this country. In this moment, many of us might feel overwhelmed. Sometimes it may seem as if we can do little to fight the chronic disease of disparity afflicting this country. And as we listen to speakers, watch documentaries, and read articles, the inevitable question will arise—but what can I do?
But we forget, in our narratives of leaders and speech givers, that there were an infinite amount of nameless faces that fought for the legal rights we maintain today. People who are not in any textbooks or memorials, and people were not given any holiday to celebrate their efforts. These people were youth, these people were students, teachers, janitors, landowners, street cleaners, doctors, lawyers, civil servants, and many more. These were the people you pass everyday on your way to work, people whom you give a reserved hug to at church, people whom you see waiting at bus stops. In short, many of the people who helped fight for our rights were not illustrious emissaries brought from upon high to save our poor souls. No, these people were profoundly ordinary. When we wonder about our own power, we should realize that many of those nameless faces wondered the same thing about themselves, and still found the courage to fight.
Our power does not lie in our marches, petitions, pickets, and organizations. Though all these things are necessary in any freedom struggle, they are merely mediums that channel the power of our ordinariness. Our radical transformative weight lies in our love, in our lived experiences, in our potential to dream. We resist every time we go out of our way to give someone a compliment. We resist when we show kindness to a stranger. We resist when we share our stories with others. We resist when we offer our vulnerabilities to people who deserve them. So even if we are not on the front lines, our every day lives, our seemingly innocuous interactions are where we can exert powerful force to change lives and enrich the human condition. Fighting injustice is not solely a question a power, but a question of drive, awareness, and determination.
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We must continue to organize, of course. But we must not underestimate the power of our ordinariness. To honor the unexceptional people who fought and continue to fight with us, we must realize that every act of love can be transformative. We can enact robust and exceptional change, in the most mundane of ways.