Category Archives: Look @ History and You

What Shaped me from Afar. (Essay #4)

What shaped me from afar
     When I take the time to look at history and what shaped me from afar, it was pretty difficult for me to find what it was that shaped me. It took me long and hard to figure it out, just because I really wanted it to be something meaningful for me, even if it wasn’t something that directly affected me. What I’ve noticed that shaped me, and my thinking indirectly is towards the civil rights movement with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It made me realize how much our civil rights are priceless and invaluable, and if it was something outside of equality, then you have to make sure that its something you are willing to fight for. It made it an easier transition in my essay because it’s what Melba was being affected by directly in her integration into Central High.  Melba Beals is a prime example of someone that was affected directly by what was going on around her. The integration at her school was most definitely just the tip of the iceberg scenario, amongst other events that happened in her life that helped shape her. Hearing and reading about her story is a perfect example of an individual that fought for what she believed in by just going to school and showing up. I believe that is one of the most important things we have as humans and students of life, is that if we just show up, and do the work, that the possibilities are endless, especially individuals that come from civil right scenarios.
     We all should have an event that we will always remember that shaped us in a positive of negative way. A minor event that I can visualize that I went through, but also be able to apply to Melba’s experience is the first day of her integration to Central High, and my first day of High school. It’s obviously two different situations and the gravity of my situation isn’t as ideal as hers, but I would like to express how I feel about both. My first day of High School was a nerve racking one. I didn’t know what to expect, basically just being one of those students that felt the underlying factors of the transition from middle school to high school. Basically just feeling that natural anxiety that we adolescents feel when transitioning into the unknown. Nothing major compared to Melba’s situation, but still had a profound effect on me.  Melba on the other hand had a big deal around her transition into Central High. I can only imagine what she was feeling at the time. I mean I can try to understand through the text, but really that’s only the half. “The first day I approached Central High School, my heart pounded in my ears. My face was hot; I was so frightened about what would happen to me. I still remember that. My skin was stinging. I was right, because the very first day I was chased away by men carrying ropes, men from the white segregationist mob who threatened to kill me.” I guess my transition to high school and her transition are two totally different scenarios, but then again it makes me appreciate our civil rights even more, because back then seemed like it was taken for granted.
     A major event that I can recall that helped shaped my thinking is when Rosa Park’s was arrested for sitting in the front of the bus. Something as small as just sitting in a vacant public transportation vehicle can stir up a bunch of controversy just because of the color of your skin is ridiculous. Taking the time to think about it now made me realize that civil rights was an ongoing battle back then. Not just with Melba, or with Rosa Parks, but everyone of color. These situations arose because they were fed up with all that was going against them, and they knew they had to make a stand sooner or later. That was the thing, when I was younger; I thought that the civil rights movement was only going towards blacks and whites. Come to find out, if I was living around that time, I would most definitely be apart of that whole debacle. I would have been arrested if I sat in the front of that bus. I would have been chased out of central high with ropes, and called names. So most definitely these situations have shaped my thinking by reminding me that we are blessed to be surrounded by the people we are with, because we can’t say the same thing about 40-50 years ago.
     I believe the integration that Melba experienced shaped her in a very positive way. It reflected her belief system through what she was going through, and also made it known that if your parents instilled the right belief system in you, you can surpass anything that is thrown your way. People can test your faith, break you down emotionally and physically, and throw you under the bus, but doesn’t necessarily dictate whether you failed or succeeded. Melba’s grandmother India is a perfect example. She didn’t want Melba to stay at the black high school. Her grandmother knew that if she integrated into Central High, it would be the start to equality and the ability to have equal opportunity as other children. “My grandmother India- who had been a maid- thought that my integrating Central was a way of assuring that I wouldn’t be a maid too. It was a way of demanding that I would be treated equally and has equal opportunity, a life that she never had. SO she would talk to me and say that I was chosen to perform this task my God, and if I denied that I had to do it- if I did not comply- then I would suffer in many ways, in my own heart, and in my belief in God. These beliefs were a central part of my upbringing.” I can only imagine how that would feel, to be pressured on both sides, but knowing that the faith instilled will take you farther than you ever imagined. Knowing that I would suffer if I didn’t comply would have my heart and mind torn, knowing I didn’t want to go back to central high, but knowing that I had to come back, for my family and grandmother’s sake. That’s all that Melba had to live by at that point of her life.
     Melba’s other situation that I feel helped shaped her was finding out that the 101stairborne soldiers were there to protect her and the other nine students from the segregationist mob. I felt that shaped her in a positive way because it gave her a sense of acceptance and felt hopeful that the integration could eventually work out. It gave a bigger sense of understanding and also helped her carry on farther than she expected. Knowing the President was the one who sent those soldiers to enforce the law, I am pretty sure she felt some sort of relief from that. “I felt proud to be an American. I felt hopeful that integration could work. And that it would work almost immediately. I thought to myself, if they just get to know me, if they understand that I’m smart, I’m clean, that I wear nice clothes, that I polish my saddle shoes, and I sing, they will understand that although my color is brown, I am no different than they are.” I believe through this situation during the integration, gave her the strength to understand what her grandmother was saying prior to her first day. Knowing that if it is God given, he will make it known. And what would be a bigger sign than the president sending soldiers to her school for her protection, I bet Melba felt a big sigh of relief, even if she wasn’t out of the woods just yet.
     The event that I can honestly say that helped shaped me the most is the Civil rights movement that Martin Luther King Jr. led. Even if it was something that had happened years before my birth, most definitely had an affect on how we interact with each other on a day-to-day basis. His motives to surpass everything that he believed in, showed on a grand scale and gave strength and faith to those who have lost it in their own personal battles during their own civil rights experiences. From Melba, to Rosa Parks, I believe Dr. King made it his obligation to make it known that we are all here on this earth for the same purpose as others. Through this indirect experience, I have a deeper understanding and appreciation for other individuals that help inhabit this earth we live on. We have the same obligations regardless of the color of our skin. Our character is what dictates who we are, and not our ethnic background. With that being said, I am forever thankful and grateful to the late Dr. King, and knowing that he sacrificed his life for something he truly believed in carried he beliefs into the hearts of so many after years passed.
     It’s obvious that my struggles as a student, and Melba’s are on two different plateaus, but just being able to share and express my feelings and experiences on that level put those ideologies on a pedal stool. Taking that into consideration brings appreciation and acknowledgment to those before me. When thinking about equality, it’s still an ongoing battle till this day. Maybe it’s not so much towards skin color, but there are still certain gender battles, and also the fight for gay marriage, so the fight for equality is still there. Knowing that there is a template for us to go by to help fight for our rights, its really up to us to make it known that those issues affect us as human beings, and also its up to us to figure out if its worth fighting for. In my opinion, if it’s worth questioning, it’s definitely worth fighting for.
SOURCE: Warrior’s Don’t Cry: By Melba Patillo Beals