I have been a member of SAG-AFTRA for close to 30 years. As a young girl I was in several beauty pageants and I saw myself pursuing a career as an actress or model. During my teen years and into my twenties I was able to make a modest living doing some catalog modeling and a little acting. Although I never made it big in the industry, I’ve stayed involved on the periphery and kept up my membership. Over the past several years I’ve also been selected to be one of the members chosen to view various films and vote on whether they should be considered for certain awards. This year was no exception. As I’ve watched several of the movies sent to me (I can’t believe some of the movies that get green lit for making), the one that has truly stopped me in my tracks was Just Mercy.
Just Mercy is the story of a young black man by the name of Bryan Stevenson who graduated from Harvard Law School in 1989 and decided to practice law in Alabama to help defend individuals who were wrongly condemned or who could not afford proper legal representation. A gentleman by the name of Walter McMillian happened to be one of the men he decided to help. In the late 1980’s, Mr. McMillian was wrongly accused of killing an 18-year-old white girl and was sentenced to die; despite all the evidence that proved his innocence. The movie shows how, despite overt racism, racial injustice, legal and political maneuverings, Mr. Stevenson never gave up fighting for Walter McMillian. Stevenson believes there’s always something that can be done to right injustice.
The reason this struck such a chord with me is because, even though I know racism was (and actually still is) alive and well during the 1980s, I am still flabbergasted at the levels of hatred that still existed over a century after the end of slavery. In 1981, while I was in college, I had the opportunity to serve as an intern in Washington, D.C. for California Congressman Julian Dixon. Coming from California, I was not aware of some of the things I became exposed to while working on the Hill. Hate crimes such as lynching’s were still happening in the South with little repercussions to the white men that were doing these heinous acts.
This type of hatred and treatment towards black men has been happening for generations. When I was a little girl I would hear family members talk about the fact that my paternal grandfather had to leave Texas in the middle of the night because white men wanted to lynch him for being what they called, “an uppity n*gg*r.” My grandparents came West to California with seven children to start a new life. When they arrived in California, they faced a different type of racism that was more covert and hidden behind the veil of segregation; but at least he didn’t fear for his life. One of the themes also discussed in Just Mercy was fear -- and not “false evidence appearing real;” it was the real deal. Black people feared for their lives every day, even if they were totally innocent.
Not all people from any race or ethnicity are good or bad, nor are they all racist. But history has shown that the playing field has not provided equal justice under the law for people of color. We must all be willing to stand up for what is right and do whatever we can to set things right. It is never too late to stand up for justice. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Healing Without Hate: It's a choice. It's a lifestyle. Pass it on!