I had an opportunity in April, thanks to my good friend, Lizzie, to be at the screening of the film, Beauty In Truth . A biographical film about Alice Walker. one of the United States’ preeminent writers, it became one of those frozen-in-time, life altering, moments. Alice Walker is an “award-winning author of novels, stories, essays, and poetry. In 1983, Walker became the first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction with her novel The Color Purple, which also won the National Book Award.”
Lizzie and I inched our way into the theater and past 5 people to our seats, as we finally sat down, she leaned over to me and rather breathlessly, exclaimed she almost tripped over Alice Walker’s feet! “What? Where?”, my friend points to the seat just across the aisle and one row up from ours to the front. There, rather ingloriously, sat Alice Walker. Lizzie was very sure we should just go over and introduce ourselves, I was overcome with a reluctance to make my way past 5 people’s feet again. But, Lizzie pointed out the time wouldn’t get any better, since Ms. Walker wasn’t currently mobbed. We inched our way past everyone’s feet (again) and I approached Ms. Walker and introduced myself.
I was very overcome with fangirl feelings, so I won’t promise what I said is in the correct order. I managed to thank her for her work and her strength. I told her I come from a family of strong women and listed some of their incredible accomplishments. My mother, lawyer, Judge, Attorney General for our tribe. My sister, Director of White Buffalo Calf Woman Society. We are strong, we are making changes.
I looked into her eyes, and said, with all my heart, “we rise”. She looked steadily back at me and said, “we stand”. In that moment, my heart soared.
Lizzie and I watched the biography of Alice Walker, Beauty in Truth. It was truly inspiring. Born into poverty, she rose above it and pervasive racial oppression. Her words, “People really had a problem with my disinterest in submission, and they had a problem with my intellect, and they had a problem with my choice of lovers, and they had a problem with my choice of everything.” She has refused to be silenced, by the establishment, by the white run, male dominated society, by her own people and by her circumstances, no matter how difficult.
The movie showed scenes of violence against the black people during the civil rights movement in the 1960’s. My heart was torn in two, not just for people on the screen, but for my own people, the Native people, who have been subjected to genocide and violence at the hands and words of the invaders of our lands. So much of what was shown, was so familiar. The poverty, violence inside and outside our communities, and most of all, the strength. The power of the people to rise above what was shoved on top of them, to move it aside and rise. Most of all, to rise and STAND.
I was utterly struck during the movie at the similarities between Alice Walker and my very own mother. My mother, who has overcome poverty, violence, and pervasive racial oppression to rise and stand. To claim her people’s worth and her own. To refuse to pretend nothing bad happened, to be able to say it did, and then to say, I used it to rise. I will claim what you say, I do not deserve. I refuse your shackles, I refuse your vision of me. She will not be held down. She will use her voice for those who can not speak up. She will protect the defenseless.
How blessed I am. My mother rose, and she held her hand out to me, and told me I could be anything I wanted, and that she believes in me. I stand with her. My own accomplishments are not as flashy as Ms. Walker’s or my mother’s or sister’s. But they are mine. Advocate and activist for Native American children in foster care. College graduate, midwife for 20 years, foster and adoptive parent. Wife and mother I say, with pride. I chose to be those things. I was not forced into them and I do not regret those choices. I STAND.
And you? I see you. I see you standing there, thinking what you did, and what you are doing isn’t much, isn’t important. Do not believe the lies. I see you, single mother, doing it all, feeling inadequate at times. You, who do not fit the mold and feel unworthy because you don’t look and act like those around you. You, who let go of the fetters of belief and the weight of expectation and did what you believed to be the right thing. We all struggle with self doubt and discouragement. We all wonder if we have the strength to go on another day, or even one more step. You perhaps do not realize how amazing you are, and what a great job you are doing against all odds. You STAND.
Realize, where ever you are, what ever you are doing. There is no act that is small. The lost child you comforted and helped. The little girl you whispered to as you combed her hair, “what do you want to be when you grown up? You can do and be anything.” The pots of soup you shared, the kind words you spoke. The anger at injustice, the determination after the tears, the fury in face of discrimination. Every single time you spoke up, for yourself or for someone else. What you do, who you are matters. Where ever you are in your journey. You STAND and I am proud to stand with you.