In the winter of our discontent; there is hope

Clarissa Etter Smith is a wife, mother

Clarissa Etter-Smith and her husband Steve live in suburban Boston.  She is a graduate of the University of Kentucky.

BY GUEST BLOGGER CLARISSA ETTER-SMITH

What an amazing few weeks we have witnessed. We’ve seen Supreme Court decisions affirming the legality of the Affordable Health Care Act and marriage equality.The murder of nine people inside Emanuel AME Church in Charleston gave us a glimpse of our president that we rarely see. While giving the  eulogy for Emanuel’s pastor, state legislator Clementa Pinckney, President Barack Obama sang a stirring rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

Healthcare became a right in this country. I often wonder how we became a nation whose people believe you should profit from sickness.  We are the largest industrialized nation where healthcare continues to be a for profit business. As someone who has worked in the business of pharmaceuticals for 20 years, it has sometimes been difficult to look from inside the business to outside and reconcile why we must profit from illness.

Then there is the other side, the innovative medicines and services that have come from this country that allow us, not only to live longer but also to live longer stronger. With those innovations comes a price.  It takes millions to develop one new therapy. Most never make it out of the lab, but the brilliant scientists who do the work, think each time there will be a breakthrough. We must create the space for that spirit of discovery and innovation to thrive.

There is so much to love about this country. While our systems aren’t perfect, healthcare being one of them, we are better than most.

There are difficult issues to tackle. We must look at the underbelly of systematic racism or we will perish. The diversity we see on the streets of our nation is envied in other lands. We are a nation striving for perfection. But the Emmanuel Nine massacre brought the seedy underbelly to the surface. We learned that a deranged, 21-year-old man was able to purchase a gun, walk into a house of worship and gun down the faithful. After the fact, he admitted his hatred toward black people. Pictures surfaced of him posing with the Confederate flag, a worldwide symbol of oppression and hate.

Innovation comes at a cost. Access to Internet content sometimes breeds contempt and destruction.  How do we support love not hate? How do we show bitter, hate-filled  teenagers and young adults that killing is not the answer.  When will our dinner tables be filled with those who don’t look like us, but make our lives richer because of it?

I don’t know the answer to these questions. All I know is that we must stay in the conversation. We must continue to work toward a more perfect union.

The Affordable Health Care Act gives millions access to much-needed preventive care, but it won’t give people healthy, chemical-free food. We must demand that for everyone, not just the wealthy.

Marriage equality, gives our gay brothers and sisters the freedom to love, to share property, to declare on their last days the most pivotal relationship in their lives.

The tragic deaths of nine faithful Christians gives us yet another opportunity to look at ourselves and take a stand for what we want to be: A nation of equal opportunity.

I am hopeful, but I’m not naive.  Now that the confederate flag is down, the question remains: Can we rise above the hatred and oppression it represents?

Rev. C.T. Vivian…what a way to start the day!

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When it comes to brilliance and boldness, Rev. C.T. Vivian has few peers. I could listen to the man drop knowledge all day long. And I love the way he refers to everyone as “my brother” and “my sister.”

Thursday, I was pleasantly surprised to hear Rev. Vivian chatting it up with Ryan Cameron and the rest of the V-103 morning crew. Rev. Vivian was one of the key figures in the Nashville Student Movement, the 1961 Freedom Rides and many other protests in the 1960s. He was holding court on the radio as only he can. Someone asked him about the use of the N-word, and I liked what he had to say. People will stop using it when we when are completely free, he said. By his estimation, we’re about half way there. The journey, he said, is about fulfilling our humanity; a phrase I’ve heard him use before.

I wish there was a way to expose every young person to Rev. Vivian. I’ve got to believe they’d be inspired by his passion and motivated by the fact that at 89 years young he is still going hard. His current job is national president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, one of the nation’s oldest Civil Rights organizations. He and Dr. Bernard LaFayette, the SCLC’s chairman of the board, worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 60s to desegregate public facilities and to push for major civil rights legislation. Later, they held voter registration campaigns in some of the most segregated cities in the south.

Last month, I spent a few hours with Rev. Vivian and Dr. LaFayette at Morehouse College in a training session on nonviolent social change. It was a Friday night and only a few student leaders at the Atlanta University Center decided to show up. What a missed opportunity! Whenever I’m around Rev. Vivian, I like to be quiet and listen. Each time we talk, I learn something new. At this gathering, he talked about how Malcolm X was sent to meet with Ku Klux Klan members. Nation of Islam leaders wanted the Klan’s help in obtaining land to create a separate nation for black Muslims. Both groups believed in the separation of the races but why in the world would any black organization or religious group want to join forces with the Klan, a group whose members terrorized and murdered black folks?

Rev. Vivian is living, breathing history. Next month, the longtime Atlanta resident will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor a president can bestow. Rev. Vivian — who punctuates every other sentence with “Right?” — told us President Barack Obama is well read when it comes to the strategies and tactics used during the Civil Rights Movement. Obama asked Vivian how they were able to succeed with the non violent protests. The key, said Rev. Vivian, is believing in something so passionately you are willing to die for it.

Back in 1965, in Selma, Ala. Rev. Vivian was punched in the face by the town’s sheriff when he tried to register black voters. But a bloody face didn’t stop the him from continuing to challenge the sheriff.

When a celebration was being planned in Jackson, Miss. in 2011 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides, Rev. Vivian told me he planned to boycott the event because of then-Gov. Haley Barbour’s racial politics. Furthermore, he said, he didn’t want to be used by Mississippi officials intent on showing how far they’d come since the days they jailed hundreds of Freedom Riders in a state prison for “Breach of the Peace.”

I’m sure Rev. Vivian will have a few choice words for the Washington crowd when he receives the Presidential Medal next month. I can’t wait to hear what he has to say.