In the spirit of the Kroc School of Peace Studies, this blog written by alumnus Mathew Holloway (MSCMR '23) embarks on a journey through history and personal experience, tracing the legacy of social activism rooted in the pursuit of justice.
Growing up in the Shadows of a Dark Past
My philosophy of social activism finds its roots in the legacy of making good trouble. As a child of the South, I grew up in the graveyard of enslavement, the brief period of reconstruction, the oppressive era of Jim Crow, and the struggle for civil rights. During my teenage years, I began my journey as a volunteer at my local library. This experience, coupled with my later role as an Americorps Vista, laid the initial cornerstone of my commitment to making good trouble. I was profoundly influenced by my interviews with veterans from the Freedom Summer of 1964 and the lives of pivotal figures like James Meredith. The stories recounted by community elders who vividly remembered the marches led by luminaries like Martin Luther King Jr. further shaped my perspective. I listen as they recount their tales of youthful idealism, where they stood resilient in the face of violence, attacks, and death threats. Their unwavering commitment to the belief that every individual deserves dignity as a fundamental human right remains etched in their narratives.
The Audacity of Dignity
Courage finds its truest form in the fight for freedom. My admiration for their activism swells, for they defied the dehumanizing labels thrust upon them, embodying a civility and composure that even their adversaries couldn’t deny, despite attempts to paint them as anything but. The iconic images of Black individuals peacefully striding together into schools, restaurants, and public spaces, asserting their entitlement to be there, have left an indelible imprint on my selfhood. These images have made the concept of audacious self-respect a guiding principle in social change.
Observing numerous mobs react with fury to the mere sight of a child desiring an education, and witnessing their choice to respond with shouts, terror, arson, and collective animosity solely based on the conviction that these children were somehow unequal, serves as a stark reminder. It underscores the audacity of dignity — the audacity to claim one’s humanity in the face of baseless prejudice and hostility.
Debt to the Defenders of Good Trouble
To assert that I owe my very existence to the valiant freedom fighters who courageously pursued good trouble would not be an exaggeration. They ventured into peril, risking beatings, imprisonment, and even death, all for the basic joys of sipping from a water fountain, dining in establishments, and attending schools and universities. Engaging in conversations with these remarkable souls, I struggled to grasp how they summoned the faith, bravery, and unwavering determination to confront the looming specter of death, the ultimate fear of humanity.
As I’ve gotten older, I understand that the struggle for freedom was more than a fight for tangible rights. It was the living proclamation of what Martin Luther King Jr. termed “somebodiness” — the fundamental notion that being human entitles one to care, protection, and respect. They embraced their own dignity as a shield, embodying a higher spiritual decorum when confronted by the forces of darkness.
My gratitude towards the teachings of the Civil Rights Movement is immeasurable. I hold in reverence the concept of a beloved community, where a just society isn’t just tolerated or followed, but where justice is synonymous with love. Forgiveness, a gesture as divine as any, is a testament to the refusal to adopt the oppressor’s ways — a path leading to self-destruction. The corrosive nature of bitterness is something that deeply resonates, for it renders an individual inoperable in the depths of their emotions. Yet, what resonates most profoundly is how they carried grace onto the battlefield of their struggle.
Befriending Fear, Meeting Freedom
Eventually, the weariness of living without the embrace of freedom becomes a burden too heavy to bear. At a certain point, the longing for freedom becomes so intense that one is willing to employ any means necessary to savor its taste. Freedom is not merely a desire, but a human need — a need that will find a way to be fulfilled, regardless of the obstacles faced.
Freedom and fear are peculiar companions, intertwined in an intricate dance. Freedom doesn’t blossom in the absence of fear; rather, it flourishes in its presence. Just as you inhale oxygen alongside other chemicals, freedom breathes in harmony with fear. It’s the perceived fear that propels us into action. The essence of fear’s intent is to immobilize or drive us away — a service it renders by keeping us safe. But how safe are if we cannot move freely?
The Inherent Genetic Code of Freedom
Imagine the story of your life being determined from birth, a story that cannot be undone by any choice you make — that is death to a being that seeks to evolve.
The very essence of freedom is woven into the fabric of existence. This genetic code of freedom runs through everything. Life, in all its forms, possesses an indomitable drive to persist and flourish. Freedom is never beyond us; freedom is within every choice because no matter the bondage, we cannot be forced into enjoying something we do not like.
What is does it feel like?
It’s the pulse of apprehension in your stomach, the tautness of muscles, the rush of anxiety coursing through your veins. It’s channeling these sensations into movement, pressing forward despite them, until you reach a “place.” You realize that you have returned home where nothing and nobody can tame you because you are no longer where they can reach you. Navigating this terrain mandates the relinquishment of control, a surrender to myriad possibilities. In each potentiality, you encounter freedom — be it in victory or defeat, in life or in death.
Yet, paradoxically, it’s fear that attempts to escape from this boundless embrace of freedom.
Embracing the March Against Fear
At certain junctures in our individual journeys, each of us has ventured to this profound place. It’s in these moments that life transforms into a triumphant march against fear. Every instance where we dare to utter forbidden truths, commit unthinkable acts, challenge the improbable, open our hearts to love anew, nurture our talents, and generously share them with the world — these are the steps of our defiance against fear’s grip.
To achieve this feat, we must boldly shed our trepidation, recognizing the innate power within us to claim our liberation for the power of fear lies in our imagination. If your imagination can be captured, then freedom can be bought.
Upon reflecting the freedom fighters of my childhood, their courage propels me to walk with my head held high, shoulders squared, and chin aloft. It’s not just a walk; it’s a march against fear. Every stride I take signifies a resolute stand against it. It’s not just a march; it is a movement for freedom. The movement thrives as we continue down the path of humanity.