By: Amber Leventry
For centuries songs have been empowering and evoking us. They have been soothing and supporting us. They have been breaking and mending our hearts. When we sing, we are connected to everyone before us who felt moved in some way to add melody to their voices. We Shall Overcome, The Story of a Song is a children’s book which explains the meaning of one song in particular which became the anthem for freedom and equal rights. In simple, yet meaningful words, the book starts with slavery and the importance of song to “fight the cruelty, to declare that—yes!—they were human beings.”
It highlights and explains several milestones African Americans experienced as their voices became louder and more powerful. We Shall Overcome rang through the nation in churches and protests, gathered ground through the Freedom Singers, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and was used as authority when President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke to the American people after the attack at Selma and right before the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The song has traveled from the cotton fields to the White House, its lyrics changing slightly over time, but not its message. We Shall Overcome teaches all of us that change can and will come, but we need to continue believing, fighting, and singing even in the darkest times. It feels like a dark time right now for our nation, at least for the people who value diversity, honesty, and rights for all humans no matter their gender identity, sexual orientation, or color.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is on Monday, January 16th. It will be a day of celebration, of reflection, and of gathering energy to stay strong when we watch Donald Trump become the 45th President of the United States four days later. MLK Day will be the reminder we all need that positive change is possible, but that we still have so far to go.
The week will end with the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday, January 21st, with 268 sister marches happening all across the world. Women (and men) of all descriptions will stand in solidarity to send a very clear message to the new administration: women’s rights are human rights.
MLK Day will kick off a historic week in our country, with millions of voices coming together in song. What gives me hope is that more people seem willing to sing in celebration on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and at the Women’s March on Washington than at Trump’s inauguration. Many celebrities and musical acts have refused to perform at the inauguration. The day’s lineup reads like a satire piece, headlined by a child reality star; one reality star congratulating another.
It’s also telling that Jackie Evancho, who became famous through America’s Got Talent, is a child. She is 16 and maybe wise beyond her years, but I wonder how much of her willingness to sing on such a big stage is motivated by dreams of a better future for herself instead of a better future for all. It’s a great opportunity to show off her talent. But it’s an awful indication that Trump can only get an inexperienced, not yet able to vote, girl with the expected naiveté that accompanies childhood to represent him.
I don’t know Jackie Evancho or have animosity for her based on her decision to sing on January 20th. We all have the right to sing, but I would rather be singing for change, for hope, and for the people who don’t have a voice. I would rather sing to combat hate, rather than endorse it.
For me, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day will be a day to feel pride and empathy for people who fought to have the rights black citizens deserve. I will never understand what it is like to be a person of color. But I know the feeling of being a queer woman. I worry about the legality of my marriage. I worry about the safety of my children. I know what it is like to feel less than. No matter what happens in the next four years, we will fight, we will overcome.