Dr. Martin Dr. Martin Luther Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, the fighters, both white and black gave a lot to all of us, people of color, Immigrants of African descent, Black Americans as well as to all of white America. It is what we have done and will do with such a freedom that helps us remember.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the leaders who fought for our Civil Rights in the United States are inarguably the fathers and mothers of the freedoms we African immigrants and immigrants of color enjoy today. It is easy to forget because many of us were not here to see how far we’ve come as a people.
One of my most favorable people I know is a woman I called, Grandma Laurine Brown who lived in Kalamazoo MI, when my family and I lived there. We adopted Grandma, the grandmother of my girlfriend, Narda during our seven years in K-zoo. Grandma, who celebrated her 90th birthday before my family and I moved to Pennsylvania never forgot to remind us younger people of how far we had come as a people, whether black African immigrants or black Americans. Today, Grandma is still strong at almost 98 years old.
Whenever we would get together for a celebration or just a visit, for dinner, family time, or just so Narda’s children and ours would play, we’d be sitting there talking and eating at some snacks, sometimes in Narda’s home or at mine, and there we were, complaining often about the injustices and discriminations we had seen that week or that month or that year. One of the things we African immigrants discover very fast is that instead of black people complaining about colonialism and corrupt government officials and dictators in our countries, here in America the issue is more about how subtle and institutionalized discrimination is, and how widespread it can be, even so that one has to strain their eyes and ears to find out they’re being set aside for someone else lighter skinned than them. Of course, Africans take a longer time to discover all of this, and when they do, they are often shocked and angry.
Since we were not a bunch of intellectuals trying to dissect civil society’s evils during those get together times, our complaining was not a regular thing, but when we did, we did. But there we’d be in our cold K-zoo wintry town, and we’d be laughing at our problems or angry about our problems of that week, and Grandma, with her beautiful silver hairs thinning out and her often upbeat spirit, would say, “We’ve come a long way, my children, we’ve come a long way,” stopping us in our conversation.
“If you’d seen what I have lived through, you will know that you have nothing to worry about. I am just glad to go to God, knowing how far black people have come to be here,” she’d wiggle her strong body around the room and leave our complaining selves standing there. The hopes she had carried for decades of her very long life and the joy and spark in her eyes were my hopes of things to come.
This brings me to my point of African immigrants, immigrants of African descent or people of color.
Mostly, my points here are for African immigrants who have come to these United States since the early 1970s, first, as students who came and returned home on the most part, then in the 1980s, coming mostly now as immigrants or staying after their education. In the 1990s, wars in West Africa propelled hundreds of thousands of us to immigrate, some for a brief time, but most, forever to a land that had become more free because of the Civil Rights Movement.
Because of the freedom that others fought for, the US government made it possible for thousands of immigrants from all over Africa to come and find a home in this country. As we celebrate Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement and legacy, the question is how do we as immigrants see ourselves? Do we stand aside and watch as if this is not our history and they did not fight for us or do we celebrate and help to make the world better as is expected?
Whether or not we feel like celebrating or studying the history of how it is that we can equally fight for jobs alongside everyone, both whites and blacks, we have much to be thankful for. I know for a fact that from the understanding of human movement, had the Civil Rights fight not taken place, had King not given up his life for the movement, had he fled from the call that God placed upon him, had he not accepted this great call to die for his people, had he said, “hey God, find someone else to do this dirty job,” many of us would never have come here. One example I have is that if you look at Africa itself, the Republic of South Africa under Apartheid at that same time did not see other African immigrants flock out there to try and become South Africans.
When Africans and black people could not eat in the same restaurants as white people, when black people’s children could not play on the same block as white people’s children and when they could not go to the same schools or ride the same buses, I tell you, my people, we did not get on planes in droves trying to come to the United States, and those that came were not free to love this country because of what they saw.
But lest we forget that others fought for what we of all races and creeds enjoy today, we need to stop and teach our children something. We need to know that the fact that Obama, the son of a Kenyan man and a white woman is not only running, but is doing what black candidates could not do in having supporters of all races no matter what, tells us that yes, as my beautiful adopted, Grandma Laurine said over and over, “Yes, we’ve come a long way!”
But this means that those of us immigrants standing on the fence need to get off the fence and live the American dream that others have fought to get us to share in. I do not believe that that dream is only for color or black people whose heritage is in the history of Slavery. Many people often think it means that. No, Dr. King and all of those, both whites and blacks who fought for our freedom would not have suffered for that kind of half freedom. They fought for racial equality- finish, as they say in Liberia.
So you cannot say “they did not fight for me.” I believe that that dream and its fulfillment then and still to come is for all: Blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians, every body. That’s the reason why America is such a great country. There certainly is no place on earth where everyone of every race and creed, religious belief and sexual orientation can have the rights to be protected under the law. This is why we call this place, America, where you now live.