This weekend, I took my son and eight of his friends to see Selma, a chronicle of Martin Luther King’s campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. Anirudh is 11 years old and is curious about stalwarts from history such as Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. He has studied King in school and known him to be a great civil rights leader who campaigned extensively for the rights of the African-American people.
Even for someone who was not living in the USA in 1968, when King was assassinated, the parallel with Gandhi is always uppermost in my mind on Martin Luther King Day. Both of them were proponents of non-violence and believed that non-violent resistance would grow human dignity and true independence faster than a passive submission to evil or than violence. Both believed that violence is like a cancer, it metastasizes into more violence and bitterness. But, as King said in July 1959 Ebony magaizine after a trip to India, the “courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love, in the faith that it is better to be the recipient of violence than the inflictor of it…may develop a sense of shame in the opponent, and thereby bring about a transformation and a change of heart.”
For Anirudh and his friends who went to see the movie, it provided an insight into history and the hardships that the African-American community had to endure, The march on Selma with the members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, who were working on voter registration in the South, was only a bullet point in King’s biography, in Anirudh’s mind. But everyone on the march risked their lives for something they believed in, in direct defiance of an injunction against civil disobedience. It was a very poignant moment when, marching across the bridge, King decided to walk back to Selma after the troopers made way for them to pass. As King mentioned later, he would rather face the ire of the community rather than risk their lives.
The nine kids sat quietly through the movie absorbing the details and at the end movie they all clapped. I felt that as they walked quietly out of the theatre – something which I have never seen them do – they walked a bit taller. Take your kids to see Selma. The movie provides lessons to the current generation on what it means to stand up against injustice irrespective of caste, creed, color, sex, sect and status. It provides a lesson to them to stand up against bullying in schools.
The story is something we should all remember and respect. King was a great orator. There may be a little controversy about how supportive President Johnson actually was of the civil rights movement, but even he made a speech a week after the march on Selma on using the phrase “We Shall Overcome”, proving the transformative power of speech coupled with heartfelt action.
A group of African-American business leaders in New York and organizations across the US are underwriting free admission to the film for 7th, 8th and 9th graders across the country (#SelmaForStudents). I am proud to say that my company ClioSoft is also paying for tickets for employees and children from the middle school who want go to the movie.
The film made me realize that we should be thinking about how we are contributing to our society, how we are supporting and enjoying our civil liberties, how we are participating in local and national politics – what we should be doing to celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday instead of just considering it a long weekend.
-- Ranjit Adhikary, ClioSoft