By Tariq Meyers
She cried. Grasping my hand she pulled me down to her level. She was old and slight of build. Her skin was the color of caked Mississippi clay. Her eyes were a hue of teal and gray. Her lips clinched tight forming wrinkles around her mouth as if each line told a different story; each crease, a different narrative; each trench, a time when the old Louisianan spat wisdom.
Tears running down her face, she thanked me. Thanked me for caring—for loving; but why? I had done nothing. I submitted an application, boarded a bus, and began the 2011 Student Freedom Ride. I stopped in 18 different cities, checked in at 10 different hotels, slept in 10 different beds. I saw 10 different moons, 10 different stars, heard 10 different rattles of worn out air conditioners. I witnessed 18 different forms of poverty, and 18 different forms of wealth, experienced 18 forms of welcomes and goodbyes—but this one was different, this one felt different, this one meant something different. This wasn’t just any old city, it was New Orleans. The same New Orleans that met Katrina, the same New Orleans that is burdened with poverty and corrupt police, and the same New Orleans that never saw the arrival of the 1961 Freedom Riders.
She embraced me, held me close. I had finished the sojourn. She waited 50years for that bus to come, 50 years for the Freedom Riders, 50 years—waking each day in hope that justice would soon rise with the sun over the bayou. We stood there connected, our heart beats in sync. I was holding history in my arms. She witnessed sunsets of “colored” signs, hoods that yelled “nigger.” She saw police beat her sisters, and men lynch her brothers. She grew tired of standing and was sick of back door service; done with being spat on and fed up with living with fear. Her name was not “auntie” or “nigra” or “girl,” her name was not “you” or “lady” or “bitch”; she is a human being, a child of God, inferior to no one. But she waited, waited fifty years, because she knew the Freedom Riders would come one day, someday, even in the dark days. She held me close because we had arrived.
We were the manifestation of her hope, the manifestation of her vision. The struggle of the Civil Rights Movement had come to fruition. We were 40 strong – black, white, yellow, tones of red and brown. We were Catholic and Protestant, Jew and Muslim, Hindu and agnostic. We were gay, straight, transgendered and bisexual. We were old and young. We came from the North and the South, from coast to coast. We were rich and poor; came from top universities and community colleges. We were sending a message, a clear message: “We shall overcome.”
She let me go, looked me in the eyes. She gave a smile and said, “it’s your turn now, don’t let nothing turn you around.”
“We shall overcome some day. Deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome some day. We’ll walk hand in hand; we’ll walk hand in hand. We’ll walk hand in hand some day. We shall overcome.”