With all of the talk surrounding critical race theory, it has become pertinent that we become more intentional about learning the whole truth of our past. Recently, I have tried to recall what I learned in my history classes. I believe that was mention of Martin Luther King, Jr., Sourjoner Truth, George Washington Carver, and Rosa Parks in elementary school. I remember there was as much emphasis on Black History Month as St. Patrick’s Day. Thankfully, movies about Africa (Roots) or civil rights (Little Boy King) piqued my interest. Still, Alabama History, the Civil and Revolutionary Wars, and even British history were subjects constantly taught. I specifically remember watching Eyes on the Prize in the 9th grade. That was the 1st time I learned about who I was as a Black person in America, specifically in Alabama.
The current pandemic has taught us several things, some individually, and we had some group assignments. Forced isolation, aka stay-at-home orders, showed us how much information we constantly consumed. We were already addicted to our phones and social media, but streaming services became a necessary form of entertainment. Classic sitcoms, limited series shows, at-home concerts, blockbuster movies, insightful documents, and reinvented comedy shows provided a much-needed outlet and a bond merged across screens and devices.
As various venues and public places re-open, learning across our devices was still a pertinent need. Ongoing racial issues that hurtfully divide us serve as a reminder that the America we learned about in school was distinctly different from the America we experience and thrive in daily. Reading books, articles, and op-ed pieces, visiting museums, and participating in cultural events allow us to obtain information that challenges all we accepted to be true. The Inaugural Black Lens Film Week was a cultural classroom. I learned about my city, my race, and my history. I learned about my Black history.
I am ashamed to say that I did not know this space existed in my city. I have attended the Sidewalk Film Festival in the past, but I have never visited the Sidewalk Film Center + Cinema. This clear, colorful, inviting space located on the bottom floor of the Pitzit building with a bar and concession stand is a beautiful surprise.
Music videos from the early 2000s played on the screens in the waiting area and behind the bar to get patrons in a move and groove. The entire area is a hidden gem. Even though I attended to learn more about the past, I left there proud to know more about my city.
I viewed a double feature: Justice without Violence and Fannie Lou Hamner – Stand Up. There was also a featurette about the Tuskegee Airmen. Needless to say, I learned so much! The Tuskegee Airmen were a brave and talented group of Black men and women that made international waves by empowering the residents of Berlin and Beijing to unite for democracy and equality. Justice without Violence opened my eyes to the Montgomery Bus Boycott by exposing the details beyond Rosa Parks. Joanna Robinson, E. D. Nixon, Mary Louise Smith, and Juliette Morgan are names I never knew. They all played pivot roles towards racial equality. The Black church taught the White church about Christianity. I also knew and understood the part of the church within the Black community from slavery until today. Plantation owners, members of the Klan, and other Whites used the Bible as a foundation for their hateful words and deeds. That statement by Reverend Bob Graetz was so powerful and telling because of the scrutiny Christianity receives related to slavery and how Black Americans define spirituality.
Social media introduced me to Fannie Lou Hamner, but I never knew her story beyond her involvement in politics. She was an incredible force. Simple yet determined. She said voting is your voice. Regardless of how messy politics can be, voting is still a powerful tool to send a message, make a statement, and create change. Hamner’s trip to Africa exposed her to the authority our people possess because she saw us in positions of leadership and power. This motivated her belief that people should have a house, education, and employment. That is the American dream in the most straightforward and basic form. A place to lay your head after you fill it with knowledge and information and then using what you’ve learned to earn an income is something all people, specifically all Americans, should have the freedom to access and obtain.
The Black Lens Film Festival is an excellent presentation that should become a tradition. I appreciate the opportunity to write about my experience because this is an event I would not have known about otherwise. I am grateful my city had something significant to offer for my benefit.
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