Last night I unintentionally paid tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., by watching The Butler – a film released last year, directed by Lee Daniels. The charm of this movie, I found, was in its generational scope; it told the story of a Black butler on the White House staff, and marked the years through the changes of his life in connection to the changes in U.S. presidency. The film was loosely based on the story of Eugene Allen, who did live to see President Obama sworn into office. The protagonist in the film, Cecil Gaines (played by Forrest Whittaker), has a son who is friends with Dr. King and is active in the Civil Rights movement. Though (in my opinion) not as profound or moving a film as either Malcolm X or 12 Years a Slave, The Butler is well worth watching for a glimpse back in time at the struggle for equality that was so intense in the 60s.
I’m choosing to write about Martin Luther King Jr. for the emphasis days like today place on our history and the changes society and individuals have undergone over the past few decades. Regardless of the states of racism, prejudices, and equality we live with today, regardless of where in the world we come from, we all carry the weight of our histories; they make up parts of our identities and define how we connect with and relate to others. In our Clinical Seminar course, we have all had to create genograms that tell a story of family and connectedness, and to further write about what it all says about the strengths and weaknesses we carry as practitioners. I’m glad we take the time to reflect in these ways, to understand ourselves better and discover what that means about the way we interact with others.
As a Black, international student – a minority in this country – my background and my roots have always been elements that I’ve held to because they define a part of me. My values and view of the world are all tied up in who I am and where I come from, and knowing these helps me to value the individuality that each new client will bring, whether it is visible or not.
I’m experiencing the vast importance of this as I facilitate a team-building, communications and social skills group at my placement site. There are 25 students in the group and our first task, before we can get anywhere or get anything done, is to find out what makes each of us unique, what do we consider to be need-to-know information about ourselves, and how do we connect to others. Luckily, there are tons of fun ways to do this and make learning about relative strangers less of a challenge.
I’ve also been wanting to touch on the passing of the great leader and inspiration, Madiba (Nelson Mandela). My heart is warmed by all the coverage and talk that has centered around his life and his teachings, and by seeing how many people aspire to understand and carry with them the values he promoted. I’ll leave with you a sweet little clip of a South African girl who pays tribute to Madiba through spoken word.