When I was a mere slip of a lad, my window on the world was extremely narrow. This was especially true of race relations. I grew up in Boulder, Colorado where the concerns of a generation were regularly played out in living color on the campus of the University of Colorado. Living color if that color happened to be beige. I grew up in a place and time when there was a peach colored crayon called "flesh." I lived in a modest suburban enclave where the families looked, within some very basic parameters, just like me.
This did not mean that I wasn't sensitive to the struggles of those who were colored with different crayons. I was an extremely sensitive kid. I was six years old when Martin Luther King was assassinated, and I felt that. When I did see news on our television, I understood the problem with black and white even though we had a color TV. My parents helped pave this path, even as their own awareness was being forged. But for me, those were lives being led somewhere else, and the fully formed thought that Black Lives Matter would not have occurred to me back then.
Not until I watched The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Now at the ripe old age of twelve I was able to absorb more of what was happening, had happened, and needed to happen My narrow window was forced open by the performance of Cicely Tyson, who played Miss Pittman who was born into slavery and lived long enough to become a touchstone for the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The scene in which she finally walks up the sidewalk, brushes past the gun toting peace officers to drink from the Whites Only water fountain opened my eyes. This was also the woman whose portrayal of the mother in Sounder two years before might have had the same impact, but I wasn't ready. In 1977, when Ms. Tyson played another mother, Alex Haley's great great great great great grandmother, the world was starting to become ready. I hedge here because I note that while the world seemed enraptured by all the performances and story of a black family's generational journey, that struggle still had to be remade just a few years ago. As if to remind us all that the struggle continues.
I salute Cicely Tyson here on the occasion of her passing, and thank her for that opening of my eyes, and helping to provide me with role models and heroes that were some other color than beige. She stomped on the Terra, and she made me watch. And listen. And learn. She will be missed. Aloha, Cicely.