The value of equal opportunity for all regardless of race, religion, gender, age or sexual orientation embodies the fundamental premise of our democratic beliefs. Especially having participated in the weekend retreat on Undoing Racism early this year, and gaining a better understanding of the complete picture of racism and all the parts of our society that work to promote it, the challenge of equal opportunity for all has become a poignant lens for viewing our community.
In addition, experiences from my upbringing in a small town in eastern Tennessee in the early ’60s, with my parents who were active in the civil rights movement, left an indelible mark on me in this regard.
Just after the Civil Rights Act passed, three young African-American men came to what had been the segregated city swimming pool, but were refused access. The “city fathers” shut the pool down rather than follow the law and allow them to swim. It was closed for three days.
On day four, the pool was reopened and the trio of young men was allowed in. My parents and a handful of other residents took us down to swim that day in the nearly empty pool. The fence that surrounded it was lined with angry white residents screaming at us and members of the KKK, who were handing out hate-filled leaflets. I’ve never forgotten that afternoon. As a young girl, frankly it was frightening.
But I realize now how important that day was—important as a day in the history of the town, important in the demonstrated courage of those three young men, and ultimately important for me because my parents, that day set a prime example of what it takes to bring about positive change for all people. You have to be clear with others about what you believe in, and sometimes you’re going to have to fight for it.