Amidst a bustling crowd of young and old there were several eager eyes that stood out. Their faces were directed towards the stage, with not an eyelash flicking; less they missed the first glimpse of their idol, the person who had drawn the enormous crowd from as far away as Miami.
Behind me sat a group of young men, whom were less than eager. “Hey yo, let’s change seats”, “Why”, “I don’t want them to see me playing my PSP”, “oh, ok..”
I casually turned my head to look at the two boys in the exchange, their glazed eyes showed their boredom. “I hope this lady talks fast,” they mumbled to each other.
I looked around the room and was jolted when I saw a familiar face, Lisa Gay Hamilton, an actress from one of my favorite shows, ‘The Practice’. I glanced at her surreptitiously and checked to see if anyone else in the room had recognized her. It was at this point that I began to feel the strums of excitement coursing through my veins. I too was a member of the anxious club, I was ready to see the speaker of the day Ms. Ruby Dee.
When she walked out onto the stage, she possessed a frail demeanor. Her face was instantly recognizable to me, even though her name hadn’t been. Her voice quickly belied her physical appearance, it was strong, poetic and graceful. She started with a poem, a poem which set up a light mood. I laughed along with the rest of the crowd, even the boys behind me were having a good heehaw, having forgotten about their video game as soon as she had started talking. Ms Ruby Dee had enraptured the whole room.
Ms. Dee continued to talk and proceeded to discuss a famous comedian she had watched on Tv and how he had disgusted her. This man had led her to write a poem called, “Ode to a Funny man.” Her words were melodic and powerful, she spoke of “one man” but the general idea was that this one man was representative of an entire race. A race that promotes their own “self-negation” and people that are “stereotype personified.” The identities that the black race and consciously or unconsciously chosen to promote and identify with had provided “sleek new slave chains.”
Her voice poured with emotion as she sang a part of the Negro National Anthem that was interspersed throughout her poem.
“We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered.”
Ms. Ruby Dee referred to this comedian as being someone whom stood on a “poison pedestal,” meaning that the words he was spewing were self-destructive and the harmful connotations rippled through to the whole race negatively. Even though his humor was supposedly meant to be self-deprecating, Ms. Dee thought it was far from funny.
She stated that his ancestors and parents would find him far from funny. “They died for you to vote, died for you to get an education, died for you to get good jobs. Died, died, died, died, died.” Emotion seeped from her voice as she continued, the pitch going from hysterical high to solemn low. “Died, died, died, died.”
There was then a slight pause and then Ms. Dee talked about the civil rights hymn, “We shall overcome.” Part of speech was a quote from another poem of someday; like never. The words reminded me of the Martin Luther King ‘letter from Birmingham,’ where he also stated that waiting for the rights they deserved was not profitable or helpful for African-Americans.
Ms Dee was sending out a message to all African-Americans. The race has suffered enough, our ancestors have been enslaved, whipped, and eventually died both naturally and killed. People have become martyrs so that we could have a better life and the lives that many are now leading are shaming and disrespecting everything that has been done for us.
She is urging all African-Americans to take advantage of the opportunities that are now offered and to strive forward in a positive light. Do not let the deaths be in vain, and don’t obliterate the efforts that people sacrificed their lives for.