As the country and the world move into the sixth month of this historic pandemic, many appear more reflective now than ever. Perhaps it is the recent losses of beloved leaders that are forcing many to deal with burgeoning grief and its implications for the future. Their loss is tempered by a new energy surrounding the future.
The recent deaths of Rep. John Lewis and Rev. C.T. Vivian have left a heart-size hole in the country. These men, and so many other freedom fighters such as Diane Nash, James Farmer, Fannie Lou Hamer and Robert “Bob“ Moses, endured conditions my generation and those after me will never face.
They fought for what was right when it was unpopular, inconvenient, illegal and dangerous. Yet they endured and continued to lead for decades later, guiding those who would listen into a more fair and just society. Their tenacity, resilience, faith, compassion and courage caused those on both sides of the aisle to revere and respect them, even when they disagreed.
And yet, only weeks after their passing, the news of Senator Kamala Harris being the first Black, South Asian woman to be named the Vice Presidential nominee for a major party in the United States consumes headlines and galvanizes communities. The dreams of the giants that came before us are on the verge of coming to fruition, but they depend on a commitment to continuing the work. On getting out the vote. On impacting our spheres of influence for positive, equitable and just change. They depend on the willingness to step out of the shadows and deliberately disrupt the unjust status quo.
The prevailing wisdom of the civil rights pioneers is needed even more for the new leaders taking the helm as COVID-19 ravages BIPOC communities, the push for realizing #BlackLivesMatter is escalating, the U.S. Census is in danger of being cut short and we prepare for a presidential election in November. These urgent concurrent issues exacerbate the weight of these losses all the more.
I understand the burden of loss. For me, thinking back to the moments after my mother passed in August of 2009, the grief was overwhelming. My sense of loss was indescribable. I couldn’t begin to imagine what life would be without her, without my hero as I faced some of the greatest challenges in my life to date at that time — transitioning from student to employee and dealing with the Great Recession of 2008.
I wondered who would coordinate the family gatherings, who would make sure we were all taking care of ourselves and each other. Who could answer my questions from the perspective of a young woman in the workplace? I questioned who would be my listening ear and guide as I grew into the woman I knew I wanted and was created to be.
I took a deep breath and knew the answer was me. It was now time to take all I had learned from my mother and apply it. It was my time to step up and be the woman she and my father lovingly raised me to be. I knew I had to use my grief and frustration for good. It was my time, not because conditions were ideal, or because I felt completely ready. It was my time because it was necessary.
This 70-year March for Civil Rights and justice has resembled more of an Iron Man competition than a marathon. There have been peaks and valleys, phenomenal victories, and devastating losses. Yet so many continued on.
Millions have sat in, stood up, marched, spoken out, boycotted and created. Millions more voted to elect the first Black President of the United States, and fought to keep moving on the progress made, defying odds and remaining committed.
As an engineer, attorney, legislative liaison, professor and equity consultant, I marched along in progress with fellow justice advocates as we built businesses, completed advanced degrees, shattered glass ceilings and worked to create tangible, positive change in communities of color.
The recent losses of Lewis and Vivian delivered devastating blows, as these giants in the fight for equality have shown from their youth how to get into good trouble through deliberate disruption to create a better future for all of us. But the promise of a future that Harris represents, as does the record number of Black women running for Congress, is energizing.
In the old testament of the Bible, Moses had led the Israelites out of Egypt, through the desert and Red Sea, and to the Jordan River, but he couldn't take them into the Promised Land. After he passed away, the Israelite nation took time to mourn, and then Joshua took charge and led them over the Jordan River and into the victory they had worked so long and so hard to achieve.
Similarly, we must feel this grief and then take our rightful place at the head of the fight. It may be the hardest thing we’ve ever done. But do it we must — not because conditions are ideal or we feel completely ready.
Now, we take our place.
Let the recorded words of Lewis at his recent memorial service, resonate with you as they did within the rotunda. Lewis said, ”You must never ever give up or give in. You must keep the faith and keep your eyes on the prize. That is your calling. That is your mission. That is your moral obligation. That is your mandate. Get out there and do it. Get in the way.”
Now is our time. Let's work together to win new victories on the battlefields for justice and commit to getting into "good trouble, necessary trouble."
Dr. Lorin R. Carter is Founder & Chief Strategist of Carter Creative Enterprises, LLC Companies, including C-Suite Consulting and Dr. Lorin R. Carter, LLC, a licensed Attorney, Engineer, Urban Planning & Public Policy PhD, Wellness Advocate and a Dallas Public Voices Fellow through The OpEd Project.