an extraordinary woman once told me to pick up a rock.
standing in an old lot, next to an old church, on a hot day, in a public housing complex in selma, alabama,
i bent over and picked a pebble from the ground.
as i did, she told me about sunday, march 7th, 1965: now known as bloody sunday,
where she marched with john lewis, hosea williams, and over 500 other activists,
atop the infamous edmund pettus bridge, she witnessed, as an eleven-year-old girl, the unprovoked beating of peaceful marchers,
the clubs, the horses, the gas, the guns,
she heard the screams, saw the blood, and fainted.
the rock in my hand, she told me,
was there that day too.
for after the chaos and violence, the marchers returned,
she told me,
to this church,
and stood here, on this small lot.
and that rock then became a seed germinating in my hand,
i held it tight and felt it growing inside me.
like a castle of courage for a cowardly kid, it gave me solace,
showed me george wallace: red necked and bigoted head,
showed me jimmy lee jackson, schwerner, cheney, goodman, king, X, and four little girls dead,
showed me the strife and pain, the need for struggle with or without any gain,
showed me the jails, the dogs, the hoses, the hate,
digging its roots into my hand, that rock showed me my fate.
whether grave or great, i . . . we cannot wait.
cannot be scared, and cannot not care,
that, she told me, was john lewis’ rock,
after he led the march head first into the batons,
it was amelia boynton’s rock, as she inhaled the toxic gas,
it was hosea william’s rock, after taking the loud end of a bull whip,
they all came back here,
where we stood,
to the church in the projects,
to the gwc homes,
to the gravel parking lot on the other side of the tracks,
outside the overflowing sanctuary-turned-emergency room, coz the white hospitals wouldn’t take them,
they stood here,
stood here and waited,
stood here and organized,
they stood here,
on this rock,
and planned to march again.
in the face of hopelessness,
in the face of violence,
in the face of state-sponsored,
home-grown terrorism, they stood strong for freedom,
against the law, but with the lord,
against the odds, but firm with unity,
they stood strong, together, on this rock.
they touched this rock, this rock touched me,
and you don’t have to study philosophy to know that
therefore we have a connection.
but it’s much more than that.
this rock became a quarry of passion implanted in my hand,
roots spreading in my skin, it found home in my blood, and began breeding.
as numerous as the stars in the skies,
i now find magic rocks like this in the eyes,
of every protestor, preacher, and social worker, i see.
every school teacher, poet and pro bono lawyer,
every student, scholar, and drop-out,
every prisoner, parolee, and probation officer,
i see this rock everyday.
no longer stepped on,
we hold our rocks high in our hearts,
ready to fight another day,
ready to organize,
and stand together,
just to get beat down,
against the law but in the name of justice,
until they can beat us no longer,
until there is nobody left to do the beating,
for each of us, has a heart beating stronger,
with magic stones growing in our hands,
ready to carry the movement on longer,
from song to song,
to bus to bus,
jail to jail,
street to street,
country to country,
this is no small thing,
this pebble, this rock . . .
that ms. joanne bland gave to me,
has forever changed my life.
You can learn more about my shero, Joanne Bland, by visiting her website.