A number of weeks ago, I attended a performance with my daughter, granddaughter and a friend of “Nine Who Dared” the story of the nine teens in Little Rock, Arkansas, who attempted to integrate all white Central High School. It was an interesting format with the characters alternating between acting out the story and commenting to the audience. At the end, the main characters sat in chairs and opened themselves up to questions. I was amazed that during this time, they stayed in the characters that they were representing. I was especially impressed with the young woman who played Melba Beals because she was so knowledgeable about Melba’s family background. I asked her about this later as the players were meeting with us as we exited the theater. She said, “Read the book Warriors Don’t Cry“. I ordered it as soon as I got home.
I finished Warriors this morning. Two things struck me. The first is the level of suffering these children endured for the sake of equality. I would have to list them right alongside Ghandhi and M.L. King as heroes. The fact that the adults and students of Little Rock could impose such suffering on other human beings is beyond my imagining. Many of the acts against these kids meets the criteria for torture. Governor Beals, Little Rock’s City Council, the National Guard, school board members, the school administration and teachers all took a stand against segregation. No one protested the actions against the kids. No one attempted to protect them.
The second thing that struck me is something I was told years ago: if you want to understand history, listen to the stories of the everyday people who lived through historic times. This is why the stories of Ann Frank and Corrie Ten Boom are so important. I am deeply impacted by Warriors Don’t Cry because it is the voice of one who really lived as victim during the height of racism in the south.
I believe that listening to the voices of the people is something we should be doing as we go about trying to create our society. When legislation is being argued in Washington, how many legislators listen to the voices of those who will be most impacted by the laws they write? Listen to the voices of those who don’t have access to a good education, to those who are sick because they cannot get the health care they need, to those who lose loved ones because of gun violence, to the working poor who can’t make enough money for their basic needs. Listen. Listen, and as Jesus said, hear.