Standing on the balcony, where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot, the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, I took a moment to reflect upon the monumental strides made by courageous trailblazers like him. An ineffable sensation washed over me as I became increasingly aware of the pivotal role such historical figures had in my own life. As a black woman, I was overtaken by gratitude, recognizing the colossal contributions made during the era of the civil rights movement. I envisioned how radically different the trajectory of my life would’ve been had there never existed a Harriet Tubman or a Rosa Parks. Without these heroic men and women who worked to audaciously defy the normalized injustices of their time, the landmark rights that so many of us have the privilege of taking for granted would ultimately cease to exist.
Walking through the museum halls and reliving the history of the civil rights movement, I noticed many parallels between past and present forms of injustice: a terrifying, yet galvanizing, realization. I was reminded that the fight for civil rights must be a continuous one. We must be reluctant to become too comfortable with the status quo—always questioning who is being left out of the decision-making table, whose rights are being stripped away, and how we can be better allies to others.
Throughout the tour, our guide underscored the many agents of change involved in the civil rights movement. A name still branded in my mind is Viola Liuzzo, a white woman who was killed for shuttling black protestors from Selma to Montgomery. A black and white photograph of her hangs on a wall at the National Civil Rights Museum: a powerful reminder that the civil rights movement was very much a collective effort composed of people from various backgrounds.
As I progress with my own activism, I carry the story of Viola Liuzzo with me as an example of the immense progress that can be attained through a diverse and unified effort. While Viola unfortunately faced an untimely demise, her actions still serve as a testament to the fact that you do not have to be directly affected by an issue in order to provide assistance to the cause. While we, as a society, continue striving to shape a more equitable world, a world in which all identities are openly and freely accepted, we must be willing to join hands and fight for the equality of all people. Regardless of how you identify, you must be willing to stand up and speak out against discrimination when you see it, even if it may be directed towards a group you are unaffiliated with. No issue should ever be deemed a solely black, women, or Muslim issue. All issues are fundamentally human issues and should be treated as such.