It’s February 1 and this day will always mark two memories for me:
It is the first day of Black History Month.
It is the anniversary of the start of the Sit-In Movement that took place during the Civil Rights Movement.
If you’re unfamiliar with the A&T/Greensboro Four, here’s a brief introduction:
On February 1st, 1960 in Greensboro, North Carolina, four A&T freshmen students - Ezell Blair, Jr. ( now recognized as Jibreel Khazan), Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, & David Richmond - walked downtown and “sat-in” at the whites–only lunch counter at F.W. Woolworth’s. They refused to leave when denied service and stayed until the store closed. Despite the backlash, 25 more students joined the next day. Over the following weeks, sit-ins spread across the state and the South. In July of 1960, F.W. Woolworth’s was desegregated.
As an alumna of North Carolina A&T, I am very familiar with the A&T Four. There is a statue of the trailblazers on our campus and, as a student athlete (swimmer), I was required to attend the annual February 1 Celebration. The living members of the A&T Four always return to campus to recount the story of their march for justice, how they felt and what it meant to them during that phase of their life. They also address the state of present day’s society, imparting wisdom on the current students and audience and encouraging them to stand up for - or for their specific case, sit down - for their rights.
I loved hearing these stories for many reasons. I love history. I love a hero story, especially those based on reality. And, admittedly, I have a soft spot for the elderly. *insert all the heart eye emojis* During my senior year of college, I “graduated” from being an audience member at the February 1 Celebration to being on the program as Miss North Carolina A&T, which allowed me the opportunity to speak with these remarkable men. Many years later, I still reflect on the mental and spiritual place those four young men had to be in to decide to take the action that they did during the time they were living.
It was bold. It was dangerous. It was courageous. Most importantly, it was necessary and inspiring. The A&T Four blazed another trail for Black Americans to advocate for themselves and for allies to stand by their sides in solidarity and, oftentimes, in the gap to protect them.
Today, marches and protests are still common, yet their validity or effectiveness is frequently called into questioned. I am writing today to remind us that history shows it works. With diligence, faith and strategic action, change will come. It’s uncomfortable and alarming at times, but it will come.
The catch is that the first sign of change we will experience during that season of discomfort is often internal, rather than external, environmental or societal. We are the change we are seeking.
Whether advocating for equal & fair pay or access to a quality education and developmental programs or simply to be treated fairly and live humanely in your country of residence, justice is just outside your comfort zone. Be your own hero. Eventually, you’ll be someone else’s, too.
Once your power is recognized, activated and exercised regularly, doing the difficult but right thing becomes a matter of principle - not comfort. We say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done because we are obligated to do so - not because we “feel like it.” Walking in that power creates a new level of confidence and stamina. You become a force whose energy can shift any room. You may make people uncomfortable at times, and that’s ok. I refer you to The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, which states “what others do is a projection of their own reality” as a part of the “Don’t take anything personally” rule.