I’ve been on a lengthy hiatus, having posted my last blog at the end of April. Some of my followers have asked why the lack of production, and the honest answer is I’ve been completely immersed in writing my novel, The Healing. I just finished my first draft and edit and have sent a proposal to a publisher.
I’m feeling inspired to write about two movies Mister and I watched recently. The Best of Enemies is a film based on true events which, in my opinion, are nothing short of remarkable. Set in North Carolina, it is a story of racial prejudice, but more importantly, a story of triumph.
Taraji P. Henson plays Ann Atwater, a black civil rights activist. Sam Rockwell plays C.P. Ellis, president of the local Ku Klux Klan chapter. Conflict over the educational directive to integrate black and white students has the town council creating a Charette, a committee where both parties present their reasons for and against integration. Over the course of the Charette C.P. and Ann discover each other’s humanity, and C.P. sees past the narrow stereotypes of race.
Watching these two individuals, especially C.P., transform their ideology was a testimony to the power of the getting to know “the other.” C.P.’s ideas about black people were rooted in ignorance. When he got to know Ann as a person, he realized that the assumptions he had made just weren’t true. The movie portrayed just how powerful personal interaction is to transforming indifferent, detached and negative attitudes toward people as a group.
It took unbelievable courage for C.P. Ellis to admit he was wrong and then to speak his truth, knowing he would likely be expelled from the Ku Klux Klan community. He was willing to give up his experience of a true sense of belonging and leadership within that group to stand up for what he knew in his heart was the right thing to do. The Best of Enemies was a poignant illustration of the complexity of the human spirit, where even a man filled with bigotry and hate can change.
The second film we watched was the Netflix limited series, When They See Us. Based on true events and also rooted in the dysfunction of racial prejudice, this film illustrates the darker side of reality.
In 1989 five boys of colour, all under the age of sixteen, were falsely accused and found guilty of raping and abusing a white woman and sent to jail. All five boys faced indescribable hardships during their incarcerations. Their innocence remained undiscovered until the true offender admitted to his crime years later.
It was devastating to witness the pain and suffering of these boys and their families. From the arrest without evidence, to being held without their parents or an attorney present, to being told lies about false testimonies and being blackmailed with promises to release them if they signed confessions. These boys were scared, coerced and abused by police, then convicted by a prosecutor who knew what she was doing was wrong, who knew they were innocent, but felt pressured by the political and media pressure of the day.
When They See Us portrayed the injustices against these boys with such raw truth, it was nothing less than heartbreaking. It was hard for me to find the silver lining because it was so tragic. These innocent boys had their youth stolen from them. They endured unspeakable atrocities, especially Korey, who had turned sixteen over the course of the trial and was sent to an adult facility where he was repeatedly and severely beaten.
What inspired me was the astonishing strength and resiliency of these boys. They became men in a hard environment, but they didn’t let that harden them. None of them became the criminals they were treated as. Each one of them has a different story, but all five are survivors. Sometimes all we can hope for is to survive, and that has to be enough.
On my own journey through this life I have suffered my own instances of injustice. I wished for an outcome like the one in Best of Enemies, where the wrong-doers realize the error of their ways and take responsibility. In the many cases where justice comes too little, too late, or sometimes never at all, finding that strength is the essential difference between being a victim and a survivor. Part of the healing process is to accept that even if the perpetrators of wrong never admit their guilt, even if justice is never served, you can be whole.
Bluebeard has yet to admit his guilt and take responsibility. He still walks free. But his beard is stained for always and I don’t need a broken justice system to tell me what is truth.
I believe that having a deep spiritual faith is what gives us the strength to not only survive the hardships in life, but to thrive and that love is a potent healer.
There will always be evil-doers, calamities, illness, shysters, and corruptors. Life is often unfair and unjust. We must reach deep into our trust that everything is unfolding as it should. Life is not a one-sided experience of love and happiness, it is heart-beat that moves up and down. If we embrace with gratitude all of the blessings that come our way and focus on the good, we are better able to respond during the difficult times with integrity and character. With strength, we find the courage to speak up.
Ann Atwater never gave up on her mission to fight for civil rights for black Americans. After the huge victory of achieving integration at the local school, Ann and C.P. went on the road together to cities all over the United States to speak about their experiences and remained friends until C.P.’s death in 2005.
The Central Park Five, the five innocent boys convicted of a crime they never committed, were: Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise. They filed suit against the city of New York in 2003 after being exonerated in 2002 but weren’t awarded a settlement until 2014. When They See Us is a perfect title, for it is when you see the person rather than the stereotype that you lose your prejudice and discover your humanity.
Kevin Richardson served six years for a crime he never committed. Now a father of two, he is an activist for criminal justice reform.
Antron McCray served six years for a crime he never committed. Now married with six children, he has never been able to make peace and still struggles with the pain and loss of the past.
Yusef Salaam served over six years for a crime he never committed. Now married with ten children, he is a published poet, public speaker and advocate for criminal justice reform.
Raymond Santana served six years for a crime he never committed. Now a single dad of a teenage daughter, he has his own clothing company and hopes that by sharing the pain of his story in When They See Us it will help to make change.
Korey Wise served twelve years in adult facility for a crime he never committed. He works as a public speaker and criminal justice advocate saying he can forgive, but he will never forget.
These movies about these real-life people and their stories impacted me deeply. They reminded me that injustices stay with you, even when you move on.
So yeah, I’m feeling inspired by real-life stories of courage and strength to speak up against injustice.