Black History Month



March 9, 2022 was the 52nd anniversary of the UNI Seven event.

Belinda Creighton-Smith, Guest Columnist

My musings this Black History Month: Truly these past two years have been an arduous struggle navigating life on the  rough terrain of COVID-19. We have lost loved ones, memorialized, and buried a  multitude in novice and estranged ways. We have fallen on our faces crying “Black  Lives Matter,” until our throats were raw and held our communal breath as the  Capitol of our government was invaded by domestic terrorists. Our “essential” family members worked in the face of infection, removing the entrails of hogs,  keeping a “friendly smile in every aisle,” and nursing those needing care in health  facilities. Struggle is not a stranger to me or my community. 

Our lived experiences and the  lives of our ancestors, bear witness of the struggle. As I reflect the civil rights gain made in education, I remember my primary school experience in which my adored white teacher reminded me that black little ones such as I dared not dream of being  a lawyer, rather a secretary with keen typing skills.

 Standing in the corridors of uncharted waters, we pioneered our way as the first to desegregate Waterloo’s all-white schools. We withstood the assembly where students sneered and threw spitballs at us. We could only imagine what Ruby Bridges felt as she was led by officers into her new classroom in William Frantz Elementary in New Orleans. Motivated by the peaceful protests of the resistance, we launched our collective protests walking the two and a half miles to our neighborhood where we felt loved and safe. 

We were the pioneers, and I wonder the cost as I reflect on the ways in which teachers chose not to teach us even though we (I) were seated right in front of him.  Or the quiet anticipation of storytime, as we sat quietly and invisibly in class while  our sweet English teacher read the infamous refrain “…Little Brown Koko and his  big fat good ole black mammy!” Amidst the roaring laughter and pointing fingers of the white students, we vowed to never return to such pain. Much like the Little  Rock Nine, our parents, pastors, leaders and other activists joined us as we took  our protest to the Waterloo School Administration Building and demanded the removal of the “beloved teacher, the only discipline commensurate with the racial  trauma she only caused her little brown students. We shall not, we shall not be moved! We stayed well into the night when ultimately our fathers, faith leaders,  and others were led handcuffed into the night As the women and children were permitted to leave the building, we were met by an angry mob shaking clenched fists and unleashing hateful jeers while threatening to release their ferocious dogs upon us. We were huddled under our moms’ and caretakers’ arms and rushed to our vehicles, where officers provided a safe path for our departure. I wept fearing for my dad and questioning the value of all the “good trouble” we had caused.  

We struggled yesterday on the picket lines of “Logan Plaza, and the lunch counters of S.S. Kresge’s. Our struggle is reminiscent of the four black students who refused to give up their seats at the lunch counter in Woolworth in Greensboro, NC. We  fought against the dragon on the streets of East Fourth and lamented the suspicious  death of our fallen comrade said to have hung himself in the “county jail.” We stood in solidarity with the UNI Seven+ who refused to be moved until they had a  place of refuge on campus where they could find solace amidst the egregious assaults to their psyches daily.  

And the struggle continues. We cannot give up until every life is valued in our country. We cannot cease because we have been lifted upon the backs of mothers who gave birth and nursed life under the lash of bondage that could not break her back or spirit! We stand on the shoulders of those who refused to fear the shadow cast by death and suffered it to give our voices a vote, and the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness owed us.  

Our collective struggle today is real! It is just as valid as it was 402 years ago!  Today, we forge ahead and proclaim, “Black Lives Matter!” The pointed fact  voiced by Civil Rights mother Fannie Lou Hamer remains, “nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” We demand equitable footing for all of humanity at a time when wrong is said to be right, and the truth is called lies! We undertake the rights due us though denied for a time by a race contract. We raise our hands and forge ahead in every sphere of influence we occupy – with our hearts tied together. Collectively,  we stand in the pushing against the press. For when black lives matter, all lives will matter (#BlackLivesMatter)!