When Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Movement arrived in my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama in the early 1960s I was elated. The Movement offered a way to speak out meaningfully and change the segregated and unjust world we lived in. Inspired by the courage of hundreds of other high school students just like me, I marched, sang and watched the "Whites Only" signs come down.
We read Gandhi, Franz Fanon, listened to Malcolm X, and learned to say that we wanted more, far more, and not just for ourselves, but for people suffering injustice around the globe. As a college student at Tuskegee, I added community organizing and registering voters to my Movement skills. I also learned that we were not immune to death as we lost Sammy Younge, Jr., George Best, Ruby Doris Robinson and far too many other dedicated women and men.
I worked in Mississippi in 1964, then returned to Alabama, working in Wilcox County and Lowndes County, where I hand painted billboards, urging a "Vote for the Black Panther" of the Lowndes Country Freedom Democratic Party.
Some of the wisest words I've ever heard came while fishing with Unita Blackwell and sitting on Fannie Lou Hamer's porch on hot summer nights.
I finished out the 1960s working with Mississippi Action for Community Education in the Delta, then joined a group of SNCC veterans in Washington DC launching Drum and Press, Drum and Spear Bookstore and the Center for Black Education. We published C.L.R. James and other authors and created our own children's books.
Some of us moved to Tanzania during the Nyerere years, joining Pan African writers and scholars like Ayi Kwei Armah and Walter Rodney. We published work in Kiswahili. My interest in media and social change led me to a career in public broadcasting and volunteer work fostering understanding among people through educational media.
The friendships forged during my Movement years are some of the deepest and closest. It's the confidence of knowing that we tried and did make a difference. It's a common sense of humor and the joy of a good laugh. There's also the shared experience of some intellectually rich moments (read lengthy, contentious meetings) and frightening times. We are also bound profoundly, as if in an invisible embrace, by the memory of the people we loved and cared for who were killed or who have passed on.