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The Third Monday of Every January

1. January was cold. And gray. We’d get in the car in the morning and drive to the other side of the river to gather in the parking lot of some school. Our group was usually twenty or thirty folks, all ages, all races. We’d find our spot in the parade roster. We’d be wearing shirts that mentioned the Baha’i Faith or race unity. We had a banner. We’d take turns holding it. We’d walk and wave. All of us in the parade. Hundreds of us walking in the parade, and the hundreds of us standing on the side smiling and waving. We’d walk all over New Orleans, for hours. Those mornings I always felt a little scared in my belly, the thought of having all these strangers, hundred and hundreds of strangers waving at us. It was through a lot of parts of New Orleans I wasn’t familiar with. So many black faces. Even with one Black parent and growing up in a largely Black neighborhood, most of my friends were not. So to have to get up on a holiday to walk, for a long time, down unknown streets, with so many strangers watching, gave me something resembling butterflies in my belly. And to have a notion of discomfort enter me–a discomfort that seemed to be based a lot on being immersed in a community that was mine that I did not feel myself to be a part of while knowing that that shouldn’t matter, gave me something close to embarrassment. But an embarrassment that was twofold–one part self-consciousness for all the eyes, another part for being uncomfortable in a race that was mine but a culture I was not familiar with. One day I would feel more at home. 

 

2. My mother tells me the story of how when she was a kid she tried to get a library card. And the young librarian did not know what to do, got flustered, got scared by these 14 year old black girls coming into the library inquiring about a library card. She had to go get the older woman. The older woman came and told my mother and the other girls they had to leave. They said they only wanted a library card. The woman placed a call to the sheriff, said there were some Negro girls at the library being uppity. I couldn’t believe no one would give my mother a library card for being a different skin color. That was the summer they sat sit-ins at the restaurant. The summer she met Pete Seeger. Summer of Mississippi.

 

3. I remember Martin Luther King Jr’s face on a pice of posterboard up on the classroom walls, by the high trim, where the wavy paper was tacked up along the edges and the pictures of people through history put up: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Harriet Tubman, Theodore Roosevelt, George Washington Carver. Dr. King.

 

4. Civil Rights legislation passed less than 50 years ago. Shit man. Fifty years is nothing.

 

5. It was always cold in January when I was a kid. We would start on the Westbank, We’d wear big sweatshirts. My whole family was there. My extended family of the Baha’is were there. White, Black, Persian. They waved at everybody. Laughed with everybody. Looked comfortable, were comfortable and excited to be there. So were all the people we would pass. My father, one end of the banner in his hand, the banner reading “One Planet. One People Please” his other hand waving in the wind. MThe wide smile of my mother. The marching band playing how the ones in New Orleans play. How excited everyone was. How much they smiled on the day. Gray clouds. The sun coming through. Beginning by powerlines and passing under the oak leaves. I remember one year seeing people on roller skates. They moved like a dance.

 

6. Happy Birthday Dr King. Thank you. For what you did and how you still continue to inspire. I hope that should the time arise, to be able to walk tirelessly like you. With linked arms and open hands, comfortable, loving, excited to be here and to call it home.

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