Posts Tagged ‘ Benjameen Quarless ’
By Benjameen Quarless
Today we spent the day at 16th Street Baptist Church, the place where four young girls were killed by a bombing attack. In light of the spiritual energy in the building, I was reminded of the effects of sin in the world. From the theological perspective, sin separates people from God and from one another. Whether one is a believer or not, it is true that violence and anger drive wedges between people and make it hard for them to become citizens in the “Beloved Community.”
My grandfather was born in Birmingham, Alabama, also known as “Bombingham” for explosive violence directed against blacks in the 1900s, and the site of this church bombing. In a response to Jim Crow oppression, my grandfather had to make a choice. He had to choose between raising his family in that overtly degrading Southern society, or leave brothers and sisters in Birmingham to raise his own family. He chose to leave Birmingham and eventually moved to Washington State.
What this shows to me is that the effects of not respecting human dignity is to not allow humans to go home to grow in community with one another. In the Baptist church today we heard the lyrics of a popular hymn that stated, “Before I’ll be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave, and go home to my Lord and be free”. My grandfather, a World War II veteran, was too proud to subjugate him or his family to the Jim Crow laws. He was also a dedicated father and therefore was unwilling to go to his grave early and leave his kids without a father. As a result of the sin of Jim Crow, there was a wedge placed between the family.
As a result, I want to work in my personal life to recognize where wedges are being placed in between people. Wedges of unjust wages, education and access to resources exist in our society. It is unfortunate because unlike during the Jim Crow days, these wedges are not labeled white or colored for easy identification. These wedges are now discretely labeled under the disguises of immigration laws, education systems, and exploitative foreign policies. I urge all of those people to look in their societies and find the wedges in their respective societies and work to remove them.
By Benjameen Quarless
While I was walking at night in Washington, D.C., it upset me that so much poverty can exist in the epicenter of American justice and equality. I live in the east side of Tacoma, which has a reputation for vagrants but it could not compare to the situation in D.C. On almost every corner and crevice there was an African American asleep among felt blankets and newspapers. Furthermore, all of this is going on within sight of the White House and other buildings that embody life, liberty and happiness.
After exiting a restaurant, I saw a person in need and offered them some of the change from my dinner. It was not much, but I thought the few dollars could help this person out. It struck me when this African American woman, sitting on a stack of old newspapers, in a nook between two buildings, said something simple yet profound to me. She looked me right in my eye and with a proud and confident voice said, “I need help but not from you, no thank-you.” Although her living situation could obviously be improved, she was not willing to accept my gesture of kindness.
To me, this shows that the American dream has failed a segment of our society. On one hand, I admire this woman for her resolve to fend for herself in a society that has pushed her to the margins. However, my heart bleeds for her because she is forced to choose between improving her circumstances and keeping her personal dignity intact.
My first night in Washington, D.C. was a sobering experience; sobering in the sense that I learned a truth that was difficult to process, but also in the sense that I have come to see reality with a less clouded lens. Television and media paint a picture of the world that does not include everyone’s narrative, like the women who slept among molding newspapers. I felt like it is our responsibility as her fellow neighbors and citizens to include her story in the American narrative.
The American experience is not an ideal. There are people who live on the margins of society who are not in the thoughts of the collective American experience. Hopefully, this journey with the Freedom Riders will highlight the untold and hidden story of the 1961 Freedom Ride and broader struggle for civil rights, but more then that I hope that discourse can breathe equality into the shadowy and newspaper filled building nooks all across America.
Whitworth junior philosophy major Benjameen Quarless is among 40 college students nationwide who have been selected for the 2011 Student Freedom Ride, a 10-day journey May 6-16 that will trace the route taken by the original freedom riders of 1961. The ride will mark the 50th anniversary of the original freedom rides and coincides with the premiere of the film Freedom Riders, to be aired on PBS’ American Experience series on Monday, May 16, at 9 p.m. ET. Read more…