Wednesday, May 11, 2011

It Takes a Child to Raise a Village


The first Freedom Riders boarded buses headed for segregated southern states in 1961. These civil rights activists were trained in nonviolent protest and still knowingly risked their lives to violence. They took action to bring an end to the injustice of the Jim Crow laws still in effect in the south at that time.

My eleven-year-old daughter Laura and I talked about a then-twelve-year-old girl named Janie Forsyth who helped save, one at a time, some of the Freedom Riders from a burning bus, while adults perpetrated or stood by watching the violence. The young girl endured serious repercussions (from the Ku Klux Klan and others) within her southern community, all because she was the one who did the right thing. We talked about how sometimes doing a good thing might cause you more trouble at the time than you bargained for, but doing good is always right. Laura and I agreed that sometimes children know how to be heroes better than adults.

We also talked about the story of a former KKK member and the African American man he beat until bloody as he disembarked from a bus during the Freedom Rides. When the police asked the African American man if he wanted to press charges, he said, “No. We’re not here to cause trouble. We’re here for people to love each other.” Almost half a century later (in 2009), the former Klan member who had beaten another man because of the color of his skin, tracked his victim down so that he could apologize. He didn’t find a victim though. The African American Freedom Rider had since become a member of Congress. The old white man said that throughout the years he reflected back upon those words of love time and time again; they never left him. Congressman John Lewis held the hand of the man who had beaten him while they told their story on Oprah.



Congressman Lewis suffered a serious wrong and nearly fifty years without an apology, one he might never have gotten and the only one he got after the many injustices that were done to him throughout his lifetime as a civil rights activist. Yet even left bloody and beaten, in that moment he offered back only love—and that love grew to change a heart that most would have written off as impossibly lost. Not only did Congressman Lewis offer love at the time, he did not allow anger or hatred to fester in his heart in the following years. He continued on giving his life to the service of our country.

Congressman John Lewis taught Laura and me about what it means to be an unsung hero, and that being a true hero has two parts. There is the heroic act itself and then acting with grace and love in the aftermath, even or especially when the aftermath isn't a parade.

Dear Laura,

You spoke up and stood up for someone else when nobody else did. You protected another person who needed it and you shined a light every place where there had been darkness. You did it for reasons and in a manner that your family and those closest to what happened know for sure that your courage and actions touched lives in a positive way.

And then you experienced more trouble than ever should have come your way because of it. At times you felt scrutinized, questioned, and criticized—because you were by some people. You wanted to feel that others were standing by you—but what you got was someone standing on you.

All the while your family and a number of others (you know who they are) were with you, believing in you and applauding you. But even people who believe in God don’t always feel his presence when they need it most. I hope that you have faith that even when you aren’t seeing it or feeling it, love is right there with you, next to you, and inside of you at all times.

I know that you will continue to face and rise up to meet challenges, and in the aftermath act with grace and love. I know that you will figure out how to do that, even when it seems like it would be the hardest thing to pull off. I am proud of you. I love you.

Laura, you are a hero and today I sing for you.

Love, Mom





(Photo credit: Congressman Lewis and Elwin Wilson from Oprah.com.)

42 comments:

Mary said...

So the little girl who loved ducks with a passion is growing into a young woman of principle - someone we can all be proud of - let her know that I am reading this aloud to my own little girl ...

Jen on the Edge said...

Beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

dkuroiwa said...

Anyone who stands up for what they believe....who stands by what they think is right....who stands by their friends no matter what...THAT anyone is pretty gosh darn special. and for that someone to be so young...well, i think she is just incredibly wonderful.
and yes...thank you for sharing this.
i will forever 'less than 3' you and those you call 'family'!!!

Sincerely, Jenni said...

Awesome! I watched that Oprah episode the other day, and I didn't really know anything about the Freedom Rides or the people on them. I was amazed at their stories, especially that of Congressman Lewis. What an inspiration to everyone. I was in tears several times throughout the show.

Your daughter sounds pretty darn awesome, too. I also have a teenage daughter (15) that stands up for what is right, even if it isn't always the easiest thing to do. Amazing how tough these girls can be, isn't it?

Janet said...

It's amazing to me that people haven't heard of the Freedom Riders! What the heck are they teaching in school? Hmmm...

Oh, and I <3 Laura :-) Wish I could introduce her to Dave's grandson! They'd make quite a pair.

MJ said...

I watched that Oprah show as well and was very touched by it. We don't get OWN channel yet so I won't be able to watch the documentary. Civil liberties have always entailed a struggle and many courageous people.

Laura, it is tough growing up. It is difficult to stand up for your beliefs. It takes a lot of courage. Well-done.

PS: Laura, you may want to read "Hanna's Suitcase" which entails another time in history, the Holocaust, and the courage it entailed... You can also watch the documentary on CBC's website.

Gary's third pottery blog said...

Oh Laura and Cheri, wow :)

Aunt Snow said...

Beautiful - both the story of the past and the story of you and Laura.

Jay C. Rees said...

Laura truly is a hero to our family for exhibiting courage rarely found in somebody her age, or adults for that matter. Lauren is lucky to have a friend of Laura's character and I can think of no better gift for a parent than to know their children are associating with kids full of virtue and grace.

The Girl Next Door said...

Clearly your daughter is a gift in addition to having and sharing many gifts. Thank you for the touching, important reminder and for sharing her with us. I might even thank you for making me cry as I read this.

Mary said...

Glad I popped back again to re read this because I did leave a comment which Blogger obviously ate!

So so proud of Laura - and tell her I read this whole post to my Margot - so she has touched not just those around her but also a little girl on the other side of the world.

Love to you..

Cheri @ Blog This Mom!® said...

Blogger ate the comments before Laura could see most of them. :-(

Thank you for coming back to leave another, Mary.

Jay, you rock.

TGND, thank you. I can't believe we aren't having our May truffle fries this year. Next?

dkuroiwa said...

Anyone who stands up for what they believe....who stands by what they think is right....who stands by their friends no matter what...THAT anyone is pretty gosh darn special. and for that someone to be so young...well, i think she is just incredibly wonderful.
and yes...thank you for sharing this.
i will forever 'less than 3' you and those you call 'family'!!!

MJ said...

I watched that Oprah show as well and was very touched by it. We don't get OWN channel yet so I won't be able to watch the documentary. Civil liberties have always entailed a struggle and many courageous people.

Laura, it is tough growing up. It is difficult to stand up for your beliefs. It takes a lot of courage. Well-done.

PS: Laura, you may want to read "Hanna's Suitcase" which entails another time in history, the Holocaust, and the courage it entailed... You can also watch the documentary on CBC's website.

Jen on the Edge said...

Dear Laura,

You saw a wrong and did what you could to fix it. You have been courageous when others were not. And you have shown fortitude in the aftermath. I am so proud of you. And, I am in awe of what you've done. You are a hero.

I have two daughters, one in 5th grade like you and one in 6th. We're talking about your mom's blog post and what you did and about how kids can be heroes. My girls are proud of you too.

Hugs from Virginia,
Jen

BuySellOrBlog (Michael Barrow) said...

I love this post! I'm so proud of Laura (and of course you and Tom for raising her)! I still remember when she was out with us protesting for LGBT rights during the 2008 election. Loves me some Laura!!!

Aunt Snow said...

Hi, Cheri. The story about Congressman Lewis's gift of forgiveness is amazing, and what I took away from it is that even more than what it says about him, it is also a story about his antagonist - about how in the end of his life Lewis gave him yet another gift on unconditional forgiveness.

Laura took the lesson to heart, and what she did took a lot of courage. The example of Mr. Lewis - and the fact that what he did as a young man still has a positive effect on society decades later, is a good thing for her to focus on.

She is a brave girl, and what she did will always be a gift to her and to others.

bernthis said...

Laura: pLease accept a thank you from someone who has been one of those ppl who could have used a friend like you in her corner back when.

you are courageous and please always know you did the right thing and you are incredibly brave.

The world needs more Lauras

Janet said...

It's amazing to me that people haven't heard of the Freedom Riders! What the heck are they teaching in school? Hmmm...

Oh, and I <3 Laura :-) Wish I could introduce her to Dave's grandson! They'd make quite a pair.

JCK said...

Wow, Cherie! Your Laura is amazing. Inspiring stories all the way around. Thanks for sharing them.

Big hugs!

C said...

It's always reassuring to hear about kids who do the right thing. I'm a teacher, and I find that we teach a lot about doing the right thing, about making the right choices, standing up for those who need you, etc.. and often don't do the same ourselves.
And sadly, many children do find it hard to make the right decisions. (Perhaps it's the fact that they do see us as adults, often making the wrong choices...)
It's always rewarding and encouraging to see children making smart decisions - for themselves and in the aide of others... and it's just as heartwarming to hear of other children doing the same thing.
It says something about what you, Lauras family have taught her, and the way she's been raised... as much as it says something about Laura's own decision making and sense of goodness.

Stay storng Laura. The truth always comes out, and you will be recognised for what you've done.

unmitigated me said...

Congratulations to Cheri on having raised such a wonderful daughter, and brava to Laura for doing the right thing. Keep your head held high, girl, one by one the others will see the right.

Elizabeth said...

Laura, When you do a brave thing, you create an expanding circle of inspiration. You may never know how far your acts have reached or who they have touched. Well done.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Atta girl, Laura! Brave like her mama. Courage is NOT easy, true courage anyway. Even though this is tough stuff, people like you rise above and soar.

Stu said...

Smart and brave women are always appreciated in my world.

-Stu

Michele P said...

Laura,
You don't know me, but I read your mom's post and I'm extremely proud of you. My sons are in 5th and 9th grade and I hope that we've raised them to be as brave as you. It truly takes a large and special heart to do what you did. Keep it up and spread the word. We're all here cheering for you!!

Mom said...

Laura, I work in a private school for students who can no longer attend public school because of their behaviors. We see students bullying their peers on a daily basis, but even when we intervene, we can't always protect the ones being abused. It makes me feel good to see someone who is willing to stand up to the people who show their ignorance by their actions. You're an amazing young lady, and should be very proud of yourself. Keep up the good work.

Pretty Things said...

Fantastic post. I hope I can get this message across to my son as he grows up. He's used to being the one being picked ON, so I think he has a keen sense of what it's like to be the underdog.

Thanks for writing this.

Kim Kasch said...

Way-to-go Laura!!! It's not EZ standing up to others and it can even be scary - you're a SH

Super Hero

Katy said...

Laura, you are a bright, shining light for our family. Thank you for your friendship with Lauren, and for caring about her enough to put her well being before your own concerns. You are a hero and a born leader. We love you like our own daughter.

Cheri, I am not surprised by Laura's actions because you are her mother. You are an amazing, wise soul who loves and nurtures all of those who are fortunate to know and love you. xoxo

Karen Jensen said...

Thank you, Laura, for being a good person and for standing up for someone who was in need. The world is a better place for having you in it. You rock.

bipolarlawyercook said...

Bravo, Laura!

SMN said...

Let me listen to me and not to them. Gertrude Stein 1874-1946
Laura you are a star, you are a path finder, you are a true hero. Strength, compassion, honesty, beauty, style and intelligence.
Live with truth, take a deep breath when you question your truth and act as it sounds like you have.
Love you so much my 'sole' sister ( referring to our shoe fettish *)
Your mom is a gem and I am privileged to call you my friends.
Hang tough xoxo
Susie

Nancy Cline said...

Laura,
I've known you to be an incredible girl from the moment I met you at the tender age of three. I'm truly impressed and encouraged by your determination to do the right thing. Be proud of yourself and continue to stand up to injustice, wherever you see it. You're far more brave than I was at your age. Love you lots,
Nancy

The Other Laura said...

Dear Laura,

It takes a lot of courage to stand up and do what's right. Thank you for making the world a better place.

Sarah said...

Laura it takes such courage to do what you did. Its so unfortunate that it does take that courage in this day and age but thats another story for another time. You are strong and couragous and I applaud you for that. "Character is what we do when we think no one is watching" You have incredible character and it will serve you well in this life. Those who have given you a hard time over this are the ones without character and someday will have a hard time facing themselves in the mirror. Keep fighting a good fight.
Sarah from IL

BSOB said...

awesome. love ie

BSOB said...

dang. tried to write - love IT as in "love it", not ie, which could mean ie: which means id est, which means "that is.." in a sentence, etc. (which is short for et cetera). oy..

liked reading the post alot. i mean a lot.

Kate said...

Dear Laura,

I took a class on love and leadership this semester. When I started the class I didn't really understand what love had to do with leadership. I spent hours and hours and hours in class and read six books about it and wrote 100 or more pages and ten or twelve poems about it. I learned about the power of stones and art and music and words and actions and thinking. I read fifty or sixty academic articles about it and created two long videos about it. After all of that, I learned as much from you just now. You already knew because you already are.

I love you.

Kate

kcinnova said...

Laura, it takes courage to do the right thing when no one else is doing it. Good for you!

[blogger wouldn't let me post last weekend]

Ever said...

Yes, Laura is a hero and my family is truly grateful for the courage she showed in helping her friends and the grace she continues to demonstrate in the aftermath. My daughter is lucky to have a friend like Laura.

Kristen said...

Laura,
Even when it was and is really hard, you did the right thing because your heart is stronger than any crap in your way. It gets better. I'm proud of the human being you are growing into. I love you!
Your Biggest Sister,
Kristen