Because Seeing Selma Could Free Us All
Movie tickets are downright expensive. But African-American business leaders in New York and nationwide have come together to make tickets to see the film “Selma” free and available to 7th, 8th and 9th graders in New York City and now in other cities around the country! A quick search of #SelmaforStudents on twitter or Facebook reveals the popularity of the effort.But why fund tickets to see Selma?
Selma tells one story and many stories. It’s the story of how black people won the right to vote in southern states. It’s a story about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., his doubts, his relationships and his difficult decisions. It’s a story about black communities struggling together, hoping together and refusing to give up under pressure and violence. It’s a story of white politicians being pressured into doing the right thing. It’s a story of unjust death and deep grief. It’s a story of progress and courage and democracy.
We need these stories today as we struggle in our own time. We need stories of the power of steadfast, disruptive, non-violent protests that changed the world as work to convince our whole society that #blacklivesmatter. We need stories of those who went before us, those who were imperfect, scared, confused like us, yet with great love changed the course of history for the times when we doubt our efforts. We need stories that inspire us to use our right to vote and to fight like hell when that right is denied.But why target 7th-9th graders?
Selma tickets are free for 7th-9th graders because they – you – are right now in the midst of developing a personal and committed worldview, deciding what is important and what matters, what values to stand up for and stand behind. This movie has the power to help align your worldview with the arc of the moral universe which, as MLK would say, bends towards justice.
Maybe you think you know the story of the historic march on Selma that ultimately led to securing voting rights for black Americans from your history books. You may think you understand just how cruel the world was against which Martin Luther King rallied and guided people. But this compelling drama takes you out of calming knowing and into passionately feeling the depth of these injustices that mar our history.
If you’re wondering how it can be possible that 76 unarmed people of color have been killed by law enforcement since 1999 and can’t believe that today, African Americans are incarcerated at 6 times the rate of whites, go see this movie: it will shed light on the complexity of the relentless history of white supremacy in the United States.In some ways, memorializing Martin Luther King as a hero makes it seem like his courageous actions are above and beyond whatever we could hope to accomplish during our one precious life. But while we make a hero out of a man, this movie about Selma turns that hero back into a man – reminding us that one person made a monumental difference, and motivating us to act. Plus, you get some UU history!
Did you know that there are two Unitarian Universalist (UU) characters in the movie Selma? The UU minister James Reeb is depicted by Jeremy Strong and Tara Ochs plays UU civil rights activist Viola Liuzzo. The movie does not mention that these two characters are Unitarian Universalists, so you’ll have to keep an eye out for them. Reeb is a slight white clergy man in a bow tie, and the movie mentions that he is from Boston. Liuzzo is mentioned at the end of the film as text describes the fate of some of the characters gathered at King’s speech in Montgomery, Alabama. To delve deeper into history, you can read this eulogy that Dr. King wrote for James Reeb or listen to this NPR story on Viola Liuzzo.So, why should 7th, 8th, and 9th graders see Selma?
Because, while this movie is not a history text book, it brings these moving stories to life in an authentic way. It reminds us that we can join in the struggle to end racism and secure better democracy today. It gives us a glimpse of the many people who gave their time, energy and even their lives for these causes and it shows us that they were complicated everyday heroes working in their faith communities.
So please! Go see the movie, and if at all possible, see the movie with your Unitarian Universalist (UU) youth group or an intergenerational group of UUs. Have a discussion after. And while you're there, pretty please, take a picture of you and your UU group at the theater. When you post it, tag us on Facebook, @instayayauua and Twitter.
Going to see the movie and posting a pic won't just be an isolated action. UUs from all over are talking about the 50th anniversary of Selma, reading The Selma Awakening by Mark Morrison-Reed and using the companion guide to reflect and discern upon how the struggle for justice is a struggle that includes us all.
We are a movement after all – now let's move together!This post was co-written by Young Adult and Campus Ministry Associate Rev. Annie Gonzalez Milliken and Leadership Development Associate Jennica Davis-Hockett – Ed.