Reflection at the end of Week 2: Summer 2017
Written by Mauricio Salgado
Ms. Mary Duncan.
Ms. Shirley Jimmerson.
Ms. Lavitrus Thomas.
Ms. Queen Ester.
Ms. Dolly Avery.
Ms. Haley Mora.
Dr. Mary Olson.
Ms. Beatrice Shelby.
Ms. Jennifer Rowan.
Ms. Phyllis Hammonds.
These are some of the heroes of Phillips County that we’ve had the honor of spending time with over the past 10 days.
What makes a hero?
According to the 40 or so young folk we worked with during the “Visiting Elaine Heroes” workshop, heroes are kind; they do what’s right – they feed us, protect us and encourage us. These young folk told us that their heroes were their moms and dads and grandma’s and granddads and siblings and friends and sometimes, their pets too.
From my time with these heroes, I would add that they are also attentive and curious.
They are comfortable playing and learning.
They enjoy laughing and they enjoy celebrating their young folk.
They’ve got a soft touch and a firm gaze.
They don’t mind sweating, or getting dirty, or picking things up, or shouldering an extra load, or staying a little longer.
They also like to take a break, and make jokes, and call out stupid, and fish for compliments. They like to listen to big ideas and they like to share their big ideas – which they have to spare. They’ve got strong opinions and they are quick to name them because boundaries matter and they’ve been burnt before and they aren’t trying to get burnt again. Others have opinions about them and they are often complicated or problematic opinions. Heroes seem to be willing to step up and step out and sometimes they step in something messy and offensive and sometimes they hurt others and sometimes they get it wrong because heroes are not God(s) – they are human – which is what makes them heroes.
And being around them cultivates the heroic in each of us.
I saw that heroic seed in a lot of the young folk we worked with. I saw them share food and protect one another. I heard them encourage one another and call each other out when they were going astray. They might’ve not always done it in a manner that is pleasing to our adult sensibilities, or mi mami’s sensibilities, or child wellness magazine’s sensibilities – but it’s just as present and as potentially heroic.
Of course, asking young folks about their heroes also evoked batman and superman and superwoman and spiderman and W.E.B. Dubois. And although I’ve only named women, our young folk also named the men they consider heroes.
But these men and iconic figures are the ones that are most easily recognized as heroic by our local communities and society at large. These are the heroes that live on in our street names, our movies, our portraits, our family trees, and on our statue’s. And of the many heroic qualities my mother has and cultivated in me, she cultivated the quality of recognizing folks that are historically overlooked.
Like the majority of the 230+ black individuals that were lynched back in 1919 and the majority of the black individuals that were incarcerated after the fact. The books and articles and monuments about the Elaine mass lynching of 1919 that I’ve interacted with, name the heroic lawyers and the heroic union leaders and the heroic “Elaine 12” that suffered on death row. These men are definitely heroes and they should be remembered for who they were and what they did and what they endured.
So should the folks that were killed and incarcerated.
They too were heroes.
And even though I don’t know them to judge whether they acted in a manner that fit my 21st century sensibilities, or mi mami’s sensibilities, I’m sure that they were heroic in some way and at some point because they were cultivated amongst their own contemporary heroes and come from a long cultural line of heroes.
Those individuals shouldn’t be relegated to statistical background information – each one of them should be sung about and celebrated and complicated and remembered. They shouldn’t remain in the vast pit of shameful forgetfulness that is dug up by the architects of white supremacy. Instead, they should be remembered for the way they played, for the smell they left on their sheets, for the look on their face when they ran from those bobcats, or the strength in their hands. They should be remembered for believing that they deserved better wages and better treatment. They should be remembered for believing that they could organize and reform an unjust system.
They should be remembered.
And maybe they can’t be remembered in the same way that spiderman, or batman, or superwoman or W.E.B. Dubois will be remembered.
But they should be remembered in the same way that Shirley, and Mary, and Dolly, and Lavitrus, and Queen Ester, and Mary Olson are remembered. Their names should be held and loved by their communities. Their values should live on in the community’s curriculum. Statues should be erected that recount those heroic moments and then, late night story-circles should pop up where folks gather to tell stories about all of the moments where they were just plain human.