We throw the word "hero" around pretty easily these days. I have probably written here that Dave Barry is one of my heroes. Win the big game, you are a hero. Last week Kip and I went to the opera for her birthday, and the cast received a standing ovation, as if they had done something heroic. Not to belittle these achievements, but are athletes, singers and even Dave Barry really heroic?
They aren't compared to the Congressman John Lewis. The Boulder International Film Festival took place over the weekend, and we went yesterday afternoon to see the film "Freedom Riders", a documentary about the brave young men and women who took on the Jim Crow laws of the south in the early 60's. It is an amazing story that shows the courage of these people, who faced beatings and abuse at the hands of cowardly racists, who attacked small groups of non-violent young people in armed mobs with the protection of corrupt police. At the same time, this film made me feel ashamed that I am a white American yet proud of how far our nation has progressed in 50 years.
One of the Freedom Riders was John Lewis, who is now a Democratic Congressman from Georgia, a state where he would likely have been unable to safely vote in 1961. Rep. Lewis also attended the screening, and answered questions afterward. I realized during the film and as he spoke that for one of the few times in my life, I was in the presence of a real hero. Here is a guy who risked his life to right a wrong, stuck to his non-violent convictions, and helped change the world for the better. He could easily have stayed in law school and let others fight the fight, but he acted.
Lewis of course received a hearty standing ovation from the audience when he came on stage after the film. After, I said to Kip that if the audience had given a standing ovation to the opera singers we had seen on Tuesday, that Lewis deserved something about 10 times as enthusiastic.
I know some of my students and former students read this blog, and many are young enough that this kind of racism in America seems like distant history. When Obama was elected and I told my class I never thought I would live to see a black president, many didn't see what the big deal was. While it is great that today's young people see race far differently than older generations, they should still understand the struggles that had to take place for us to get here.
The good news about this film is that you will be able to watch it in May, as it was made for American Experience on PBS. And there is already a web site for the film, which you can visit HERE. Don't miss it!
Oh, interesting side note: Congressman Lewis was introduced by our Congressman, Jared Polis, who is openly gay. Lewis made it clear that he supports equality among all people!