Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Being the change

The Little Rock 9
 Jefferson Thomas died yesterday of pancreatic cancer at the age of 67.

Jefferson Thomas in 1957
Mr. Thomas was fourteen when then-Arkansas governor Orval Faubus ordered out the National Guard troops to prevent him and 8 other teenagers from entering Little Rock High School. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in an under-heralded act of political bravery, sent members of the 101st Army Airborne to escort them into the building and from class to class. Those students have become known collectively as the Little Rock 9.

Minnijean Brown, Jefferson Thomas, and Thelma Mothershed Wair
Dr. James D. Hunter was Tom Graham's guest yesterday on WMRA's Virginia Insight.  Dr. Hunter, who is Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, talked about how religion is, and isn't, an effective instrument of cultural change. Religion isn't, Dr. Hunter said, when it becomes just another political harangue. It is, he said, when it becomes a way of life.

In other words, if one wants to change the world, then one must first be the change.

I was 10 when the Little Rock 9 went to high school amidst an armed forces face-off. I remember it as a day my parents spoke highly of President Eisenhower; which, as ardent liberals and Adlai Stevenson supporters, they didn't do often. We were, however, a small island of celebration in our rumbling, all-white, southern neighborhood.

It's difficult for me to imagine nine braver people than the Little Rock 9. Or to think of 9 better examples of "being the change."

Our old American habits die hard. Social, religious, and class/economic discrimination continue to spark  anger and discord. There is great opportunity for each of us to take on the challenge of "being the change;" of walking in the quiet steps of the Little Rock 9.

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