Black Panther and the March for our Lives Give Me Hope
Published in ChicagoNow, March 27, 2018
When my husband was five back in 1951, he had a recurring dream that he could fly. My brother had the same dream at the same age a couple of years later. Putting aside the obvious Freudian interpretation of this dream, the superhero depicted above is what inspired them.
I remember my brother spending hours at that age with a towel pinned to his shirt jumping off beds, furniture, and any other tall objects he could find. He created his own personal superhero christened “Kick Lou” who spent hours in the shower executing mighty maneuvers. Being a girl, I have to say I never got it. But apparently boys of that age crave powerful heroes. And all of the powerful heroes they saw were white.
When my five-year-old grandson recently shared that his favorite hero was Black Panther, I thought about how the times are changing for the better, at least with the younger generation in this country. You see, my grandson looks like this:
But his “most favorite hero” looks like this:
Much has been written about the Black Panther movie inspiring pride in African Americans and people of color. Curious, I went to a movie I would generally avoid to see for myself what all the fuss was about. Much to my surprise, I really liked the movie. As the grandparent of half-Korean girls and African American boys, I understood the pride my grandkids of color felt in seeing non-whites and women represented as heroic. Just as important, however, is the reaction of my five-year-old white grandson, who is at that age when he too wants to perform acts of daring and bravery. That he would aspire to be like the Black Panther gives me hope.
It is the same hope I felt watching the March for our Lives in D.C. on March 24. When Bob Dylan sang what became the anthem of my generation, The Times They Are A-Changin’, back in the sixties, he was preaching to young, largely white students who fought for civil rights and opposed the war in Vietnam. He called on senators and congressmen to “heed the call” and not stand in the way of change, and he warned parents “don’t criticize what you can’t understand” because their values were out of step with the coming changes.
Sadly, those changes didn’t come fast enough for people of color and the soldiers who fought and died in meaningless wars from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan. When I heard his song over the years, I felt nostalgic for my youthful ideals. And I didn’t feel hopeful.
But when Jennifer Hudson sang her cover of Dylan’s song at the march, backed by a choir of diverse D.C. children, I felt that hope. If you missed it, you should take the time to hear it now.
Listening to speeches by Edna Chavez (age 17 from South Los Angeles whose brother was a victim of gun violence), David Hogg (age 18 and survivor of Parkland shooting), Naomi Wadler (age 11 and eloquent speaker on behalf of African American girls whose deaths from gun violence don’t make the front pages of the newspapers), Cameron Kasky ( age 17 and Parkland survivor and organizer), and Yolanda King (MLK’s 9-year-old granddaughter), I felt hope. I wept with Emma Gonzales (age 18 and the face of what I hope will be a new movement) as she stood silent for six minutes and 20 seconds, the time it took for the gunman to slaughter 17 children and teachers at Marjory Stoneman High School on Valentine’s Day.
There were so many other young people who spoke at the march of their determination to make a difference, to vote, and to keep working for gun control and other initiatives to make their generation safe. “Generation Columbine,” children born after the April 20, 1999 school shooting, has grown up in a world of lockdowns, active shooter drills, and random gunfire that kills kids in their own neighborhoods throughout this country. They deserve so much better.
Yes, I believed in President Obama’s message of hope and change. When he told us, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek,” I naively believed we were on the brink of good things in this country. But that was not to be. My generation failed to be that change.
As a glass half-full person, I look at my diverse collection of beloved grandkids and dare to feel some hope once again. Perhaps their generation is the change we seek. I’m trying to see the arc of history bending toward justice and a better world governed by acceptance of differences and appreciation of the common humanity that unites us all. I’m trying to envision a world in which little white boys aspire to be Black Panther and children welcome us to a revolution in American values and vow to vote out politicians who send them thoughts and prayers but do nothing to repair the world. I have hope.