Submitted by: Sarah Yanosy, Director of the Sanctuary Institute
This past weekend, I was sitting in my mother’s living room with a sprinkling of relatives representing four generations of our family. My eight year old son responded to his great-grandmother’s question about what he is doing in school with a 10 minute lecture about the civil rights movement in the US, the role of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, and the contributions of Jesse Owens to the way blacks were perceived in the world. We were riveted. He told a version of the civil rights story that belied his age with total fascination and an air of disbelief: “Grandma, can you believe that white people made black people move to a different part of the bus if they wanted their seat? That Hitler wouldn’t shake Jesse Owens’ hand? That black people and white people couldn’t get married to each other? That some white people didn’t even think black people were really people. ” What he didn’t know was that both his great-grandparents and grandparents had in fact lived through that time and watched that world change around them.
My five year old daughter sat dumbfounded, as if what her brother was saying about pre-civil rights beliefs were as preposterous as a belief in unicorns. “Really, they thought you could get germs if you drank from the same water fountain? Mommy, I’m so glad they figured out that was stupid!” I am too.
I started to wonder what it will be like when I am the oldest in a sprinkling of relatives of many generations. What will my grandchildren or great- grandchildren find preposterous about how we behave now. The questions I hope may be: “Grandma, can you believe they used to pay people who worked on Wall Street more than social workers and teachers? That there were people who thought kids were sick or bad if they acted out when bad things happened to them? That they used to think people would change if you just punished them enough and didn’t pay any attention to how our brains work?” And they will be surprised to learn that I in fact lived through that time, and with likeminded others, helped that world change around us.