Re-membering Activist Ancestors on MLK Jr day

There are many stories of my Grandmother throughout her lifetime standing up against racism.

Growing up Jewish, my Grandmother experienced and (when asked) would talk about about the anti-semitism that was so common and so culturally accepted in the mainstream Nebraska culture where she was raised. Later in her life she would say–having witnessed and lived through the Depression, the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s and so much more–that we had come a tremendous way toward justice in her lifetime.

Throughout her brave and impactful life, there are stories of how she bravely interrupted racism from her high school corridors. How she went to college at a time when many women would not and became a teacher, spending much of her professional career teaching in culturally diverse classrooms in New York, teaching me some of my earliest lessons of racial equality and justice. My Grandmother raised my Mom and my Aunt to understand the universal truth that all people have dignity and worth, and this too, coming from a long time of strong Dienstfrey women, is how I was raised.  This does not mean that I was not socialized in a racist society (I was), or that I don’t struggle with that racist socialization (it would be lying to say I don’t), but it did help teach me how to be a critical thinker and about the vital importance of interrupting and dismantling the structural systems of racism and oppression. Later, I would learn (I am still learning) how my unearned white privilege and intersecting privileges have and continue to benefit me.

My grandmother passed away last year; I miss her tremendously.  I want to talk with her about the civil rights movement of today, the tremendous protests/actions/demands that are rising up in response to the absolute injustices of consistent permissive police brutality toward the African American community. I want to ask her about the ways Black Lives Matter to her as they have mattered throughout our lifetimes. I want to listen to her eloquence as she articulately describes the world she envisions for her great granddaughters (my fabulous nieces!) and want to know/understand/embody the path she sees toward liberatory justice and cultural healing. These wants feel vital and alive.

I remember the moment when I learned my grandmother was going into hospice. I read the text update from my mom while standing in the kitchen putting away the just-clean dishes. In the not-so-surprising-but-nonetheless-underprepared moment I received this news, I cut my fingertip slightly on the knife I was holding. The cut drew the faintest bit of blood, and in that powerful moment I felt the absolute truth of my body story: that I am connected to my grandmother through lineage, ancestry, history and blood.

My parents raised me, with love and a solid foundation in critical thinking, to be a good person. My grandmother inspired us all, in life and death, to envision the world we want to live in, to call it into being. And, in this moment of honoring and re-membering, as my moon blood begins to flow, I feel that same embodied connection to lifeforce, legacy, the promise of the future and my role in it.

Today, on the cusp of Martin Luther King Junior Day,  I honor the legacy of our activist ancestors, those whose dreams and legacies of beauty, justice, healing, equality and cultural transformation are now our dreams, our legacies, our commitments, our responsibilities and our right-now-opportunities for co-creating /calling into being the world we want to live in.

“LISTEN: If you ever wondered what you would do if you were alive in the Civil Rights Movement, NOW IS THE TIME to find out. NOW. RIGHT NOW.”   – Shaun King

grandma