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Reply To: The Air We Breathe

Richard Sumpter


    In response to your desire to open discussion on the question of racism, I send the following from my journal.


    I rose this morning to news of more rioting in more American cities.  I can’t begin to sort out the mixture of feelings.  Sadness is overwhelming.  Anger too.  There is also guilt and some shame that in my 82 hears I have not done enough to be more a part of the solution than the problem.

    I think back to my activities in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and beyond and reflect on the similarities and differences.  Clearly there was a much stronger element of non-violence.  My memory, though faulty, is that the leadership then was more effective, and there was more of it.  Folks in and out of government were influential at many levels.  There were many examples of productive public-private partnerships.  Churches and religious organizations of all denominations had a moral clarity that seems to be lacking today.  The Catholic Bishops are collectively an embarrassment – and don’t get me started on Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Billy Graham’s son.

    Another difference, and I don’t mean to trivialize anything, is that today we don’t have the music.  A hallmark of the 60s movement was an abundance of folk music that gave voice to the injustice, the anger, the hope, the mission and the purpose for opposing injustice and inequality.  I can’t stress enough the healing properties of the music of that period.  I think we desperately need the poets and musicians to give us a voice.

    I would suggest that we would benefit from a revival of the hootenanny – or a modern adaptation – as a replacement for the numerous reality shows that feature pointless adversarial encounters and meaningless and vapid competitions like “The Apprentice” (now thankfully defunct), and “Survivor.”

    Music has traditionally been an important part of our country’s history as we overcame the difficulties of depression and war.  I think we need music now, more than ever.

    Let me close by recommending the video “Pete Seeger: The Power of Song.”  His hero journey is truly inspirational.