Since I last wrote, we have inaugurated a new president and witnessed or participated in what may have been the largest demonstration in American history — the women’s march that included an estimated 2.9 million people.
Reactions to these events have been varied and polarized. My mother-in-law, who comes from Eritrea — a country that has been under an oppressive dictatorship since 1993 — marveled at America’s continued ability to peacefully transfer power even during tense times. Others have been thrilled by President Donald Trump’s first week in office, while still others have taken their outrage at his policies and social attitudes to the streets in protest.
I have taken it all in this week, and put out very little. I have tried to bolster my spirit by meditating on a couple of people who are no longer with us — James from the New Testament and Eugene Bullard, the first black fighter pilot in world war history.
I’ve written a play about Bullard called Ace: The Eugene Bullard Story. It will debut at the Springer Opera House on March 30 and it tells the story of this truly remarkable man.
Bullard was a Columbus, Ga., native who grew up in a time of great oppression for people of color. He ran away from home to escape the violent racist threats against his family at age 10. This young man defied all odds, and not by skirting around the threats of the time. In fact from a very young age, he was bold enough to speak truth to power, confront those who sought to disrespect him and treat him as less than, and reach for goals that would seem at the time to be pure fantasy. He was poised, purposeful and always thirsting for unity and equality.
His integrity was such that even after becoming a Parisian hero and making history during World War I and II, a return to Jim Crow America could not break him. An unassuming elevator operator, he spent his free time writing his autobiography, participating in civil rights events with the likes of Paul Robeson, and continuing to encourage racial unity through other civic and religious activities.
His life reminds me of James 1: 2-3: Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.
His desire for harmony reminds me of James 2: 8-9: Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law.
Why is Bullard’s story particularly useful this week? Because many of us are feeling afraid or fatigued in our fight for unity, justice and equality. His life is one example of how to make a lifelong pursuit of that very thing while maintaining an impenetrable sense of self, joy for life, and love for all people.
Natalia Naman Temesgen is an independent contractor. Contact her at email@example.com.