When the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have A Dream” speech and marched on Washington, DC, I was 14 years old; the year was 1963. Had I the money & transportation I would have gone to DC to join the March. Whenever I could I watched his speeches on TV and followed the Civil Rights Movement from Schenectady, New York — the place of my birth and childhood. When Dr. King first started making waves in the mid-1950’s, I sorely wanted to go down South, not even fully comprehending where “Down South” was; I was only about 5 or 6 years old. But I knew who Emmett Till was, having seen photos of him on TV and in newspapers/ magazines. I promised Emmett’s Spirit that I would do all I could to make the world a “more better place” because his brutal slaying traumatized me so (that trauma has never left). My parents were not sympathetic towards the Civil Rights Movement and as years passed their bigoted ways towards any person-of-color, any “different” person became a thorn under my skin; likewise I became their thorn. We co-existed and I learned to shut them out when issues of race or human differences came up for discussion; their intolerance was hard to tolerate. My childhood disability made it all the easier for them to shut me out because I was “different” too. Anything I could do from donating babysitting money to joining school clubs to writing letters of support…I tried my best to keep my promise to Emmett Till.
When Dr. King was assassinated I was 18 years old and 13 days pregnant with my half-Jewish/ half-Black son, David. The grief of Dr. King’s death was palatable. I recall looking into the eyes of my son’s father (also named David) and seeing the fear that I felt; Dr. King had been our Hope! I left college in Hartford, Connecticut but my son and I remained in the city for another 2 years; there was no other place for us to go, we were poorer than poor and depended on what little welfare we could get. Back then life was very difficult but also very amazing. I met like-minded people from all different backgrounds who were actively working in the Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-Vietnam War Movement, and various other Human Rights Movements. This Jewish Chick with the half-Black kid had friends in the Black Panther Party, the American Indian Movement, the Anti-War Movement, Homeless, Welfare Moms, Disabled, Gay, etc — we were the disenfranchised and we had a powerful voice!!
In 1970, in Boston, Massachusetts my son’s father died; the grief was consuming. David had transferred to college there from Hartford hoping to make a career in Law or Sociology and still followed the tenets of Dr. King. My son David and I moved to New Canaan, Connecticut at the urging of his paternal Grandparents, Nannie & Marshall Walker; Mom & Dad. They were in every sense of the word, my true family. Mom & Dad marched with Dr. King in DC back in 1963. They did not brag about their involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, they did not need to; they walked their talk. We spoke openly about race relations, war, poverty, the environment, stewardship, involvement, and so much more. I went to the NAACP, Urban League, and Democratic Meetings; it was expected of me, but they did not need to force the issue. I saw through the life they lead the importance of involvement and I had my own history of involvement which they respected. When my son and I would be out and about it would not be uncommon to have people approach me and speak of what Mom and Dad had done for them or someone they knew to help them along. Helping 1 person or thousands, Mom and Dad believed in and carried on the Legacy of Dr. King. And it was not only Individuals within the African-American community that they helped; they truly believed that they were a part of the whole of Humanity. When Mom died in 1985, to say the world mourned would not be an exaggeration. As my own parents aged and watched from afar the life I chose to lead they developed the courtesy to act more tolerant in front of me and my family, but “differences” were still something they remained uncomfortable with. However in the presence of Nannie and Marshall Walker it is hard to believe that even the most hard-core racist would not have become a more enlightened and tolerant individual.
Moving to Portland, Oregon in 1980, did not stop my involvement, but not having my Mom and Dad here with me made getting connected a bit harder. However, since I learned from the best I found myself a niche working on the very things that had always urged me on — Racism, Wars, Justice, Equality, Human Rights; these issues are Universal and Everywhere. Meetings, Rallies, Marches, Organizing, Public Speaking, Letter Writing, Volunteerism whether 1:1 or thousands or just me sitting at home pounding out words for e-mails, letters, tweets…..I am still doing my thing as best I can! Emmett Till, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, David H. Walker, David F. Walker (my son), Helping Ex-Prisoners Live Positively, Black Panthers, AIM, Veterans for Peace, Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom, Coalition for Human Dignity, Fairfield County NAACP, Urban League, Nannie & Marshall Walker, My Walker-Hancock Family, Henry Mendoza, Pat Hollingsworth, Leonard Peltier, Amnesty International, Cascade AIDS Project, Kirk Douglas (Native-American Activist not the Actor), Portland Vet Center, The Homeless Community in Portland, United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (office in NYC), Kenneth SeDillo, Positive Healing Energy & Love Day, and so many others along the way (some gone, some still remaining but always changing) — I Recognize the Legacy that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. left to us ALL and I continue on as best I can to follow that Legacy. I am older now with the ravages of years and illnesses that seem to plague each of us at times —Yet, how can I stop? This commitment was made when I was a 6-year old child; it was made from tears and pain and a pure heart; it is unbreakable!! As hard as it has been at times to work around the Haters, the Ignorant, and the Apathetic, I am forever THANKFUL to the Divine Presence for guiding me to this path I have followed. There is so much more to say; there always is. But I will stop for now. ♥
Bonnie F. Walker, RN, BS, LNC