Oppressed does not mean defeated. This truism is one we should reflect on given the endless stream of pundits and politicians who try to inculcate a spirit of victimization in our spirits. I write this in light of tweet that I saw from Isaiah Washington about a movie he is starring in that recounts the story of Rosa Parks and the movement that dared to defy injustice. It was a moment of serendipity I guess, I saw in Isaiah’s outreach an intersection of the past with the present and a way forward for all of us.
In an age where sensationalism seems never ending and scandal is the new norm, it was refreshing to see a Hollywood star use his social capital to inspire us with hope instead of depressing us with manufactured outrage. Shortly after seeing the tweet from Isaiah and finding out about TV One’s “Behind the Movement” from him, I spent the next couple of hours researching the production and the inspiration behind the soon to be released movie.
What I discovered was a pleasing break from the insanity of our politics. What is lost in the age of instant gratification and hashtag movements is the spirit of fierce men and women of the 50’s and 60’s who made it their purpose to stand against institutional racism and the mendacity of deep seated bigotry that was pervasive throughout America a half century ago. “Behind the Movement” is a story of perseverance and shows what can happen when a concerted effort takes on a concentrated power.
Most of us know about Rosa Parks and her refusal to take a back seat on the bus. Her defiance symbolized the Montgomery bus boycott and showed how collective action can shatter the foundation of oppression. Mrs. Parks deserves credit and she is worthy of the tribute history gives her. But what gets lost in her shadows is the story of amazing men and women, from lawyers to laborers, who united to starve the beast of Jim Crow.
Mrs. Parks had no idea that she would end up becoming the face of a sustained effort to buckle segregated busing in Montgomery that eventually became a national campaign to take on state sponsored oppression. She had no way of knowing just how iconic her rebellion would become when her refusal to move was met with handcuffs. History is made when chance events marry brilliant ideas. Mrs. Parks happened to be the secretary of E.D. Nixon, the president of the local NAACP chapter in Montgomery, Alabama. Mr. Nixon had been mulling an effort to take on segregation in Alabama, he realized that Mrs. Park’s duress was a potential watershed moment in the struggle for equality and sufferage.
Once Mrs. Parks was home safe, E.D. Nixon called up a “white” attorney and a close confidant to discuss the particulars of her ordeals. It was during that phone call and a subsequent discussion with Mrs. Parks that they realized her plight perfectly captured the injustices felt by countless African-Americans under the boot of segregation and Jim Crow. Rosa Parks was the face of a movement but the movement was collective as were the toils of the souls who marched from exclusion to victory.
The story of the Montgomery bus boycott is not just an African-American story, it is a story of human resilience that all of us should be inspired by. Isaiah Washington leads a powerful cast of actors as he plays the part of E.D. Nixon in TV One’s original movie “Behind the Movement”. There is another facet to Isaiah’s initial tweet—which inspired this article—that captivated my attention. The fact that an established star like Isaiah would invest the time to actively promote this narrative and convey the backstory behind Rosa Parks was awe inspiring.
We have come to expect the worse from our heroes as we grow increasingly disenchanted with the rich and famous. Hollywood has gotten a black eye for the endless parade of disgraceful actions that is streaming out of Tinsel Town. Isaiah Washington, the cast of “Behind the Movement” and TV One remind us of the good that can emerge when those who are given much make giving back much their North Star. In a time where hope seems too small compared to the scale of injustices, the story of Rosa Parks and the people who took on oppression through collective action is one that is sorely needed. Click To Tweet
I reached out to Isaiah Washington and asked him why this movie was so important and why this production captured his imagination. He told me that that history has given short shrift to the contributions Mr. Nixon made during the Civil Rights era. Isaiah noted:
“I was appalled that I didn’t know the critical contributions that E.D. Nixon made to the Civil Rights Movement and how he and Professor Jo Ann Robinson made Rosa Parks the face of the movement. He also hand picked a reluctant 26 year old Martin Luther King Jr. to be the leader of the campaign by making him the President of the Montgomery Improvement Association. I thought it was well overdue to honor his grassroots organizing skills by portraying a unsung hero on screen where he belongs.”
The herculean efforts of Nixon and the part he played in organizing a landmark event in the history of the Civil Rights Movement is a vital story that needed to be told. Too often, history ignores the contributions of important figures as they get overshadowed by iconic legends. “Behind the Movement” shows that regular folks can be heroes when they decide to sacrifice for a cause bigger than their egos—we can be heroes too.
The time is before us to put aside squabbles and childish things and unite as one people to pursue universal justice. The story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott is one that transcended race, gender and class in order to seek redress and redemption. Isaiah Washington’s tweet was a powerful reminder that we have the means in our hands; instead of using social media to bicker and fight, let us use that power to reclaim our narrative—our stories are powerful as evidenced by the video below. A system of oppression is enhanced by division, that same system is defeated through unity and togetherness.
Let us remember—no matter how distressing our circumstances or burdensome the journey—that redemption arrives through sacrifice and struggle. Tough times lie ahead, let the movements from the past and the sacrifices of previous generations remind us that unity can overcome hardship and injustice. Our stories are not of victims but victors, our history can’t be contained by one month nor can our worth be obscured by a system that tries to reduce our significance. #BehindTheMovement
“Memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds will continue in others.” ~ Rosa Parks
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Check out a preview of TV One’s “Behind the Movement”. Make sure to watch the video below this clip to watch a Ghion Cast that discusses “Race and Identity” in a most profound and eye opening way.
This is a preview of the event I’ll be hosting this Sunday at Busboys and Poets in DC. Below it is the actual video I’ll be showing before we start the community discussion about race & identity in America.
Heads up, this video is going to seem jarring at first. But give it a chance and you will realize that my aim is not to disavow heritage but to reclaim our narrative. This is a podcast I recorded that is timely given the month before us.
Check out Isaiah’s weekly podcast as he speaks about this movie and important topics ranging from social justice to cultural trends. Click HERE or on the picture below to subscribe to Isaiah’s station.
Ghion Event this Sunday, February 11th in Washington DC
Busboys and Poets will be hosting the founder/editor of the Ghion Journal as a featured author on February 11th at their 5th and K Street NW location. Busboys and Poets is an iconic bookstore and cafe named in the honor of legendary poet and visionary writer Langston Hughes. The event will be a community discussion about “race and identity in America”, a timely topic given that February is “Black History Month’.
This is a community event that is free and open to all, we highly encourage an advance RSVP to ensure seating. You can see the event link at Busboys and Poets website by clicking HERE. RSVP by clicking on the picture below.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.