By Arlene Hosea
YWCA McLean County Woman of Distinction and former board member
I am too young to remember the March on Washington, as I was born in 1959. But as I reflect on it 50 years later and having learned about it as I grew older, I think about the sacrifices of those who came before me so that I could, live, eat, shop, obtain an education, work and thrive as a full citizen in America.
I’m saddened when I hear phrases today like: “Pick your battles,” “Don’t take it personally,” “Be quiet, and don’t complain.” I’m saddened by “code language,” that tells us, “it’s just politics!” I’m saddened when those who feel marginalized cannot change their circumstances, unless someone with a higher standing or position speaks up for them and says, “This is not right!” A warning like “Pick your battles” is threatening language, no matter what the context. When a person who has spoken up to defend his rights is assaulted and injured, he’s told that “he should have picked his battles.” Language like this wrongly and unfairly blames the victim.
When someone speaks up in their workplace about being marginalized, they often face the threat of poor treatment or termination – for example, the Memphis Sanitation workers who went on strike and were supported by Dr. King in 1968 were tired of marginalization. They struck against unsafe conditions and low wages, and in support of better benefits and union recognition. When Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968, he had been in that city to support those workers and their families.
Imagine if Dr. King had not “picked the battle” of injustice, if he had waited for someone else to speak up for the marginalized, if he had not stood up and out on the “just politics of the time.” Just imagine where we would be today. Would I live where I now reside? Would my husband and I be able to dine anywhere we choose? Would I have been able to be in a position of leadership in my profession? Would I be able to swim in my community pools? I believe not.
Dr. King gave his life so that others could live. We now have a responsibility to speak up for those who cannot; to challenge the status quo; to state when someone is being discriminated against and marginalized; and to pick the battles for what’s right and to change the politics – if it’s really “just politics.”
Today, as I reflect on this anniversary, I gain strength and confidence that tomorrow will be a better day, and that each one of us can teach each other about respect, inclusion, justice and allowing all of us to be the best of ourselves in every aspect of our lives. Thank you, Dr. King, and thank you to all of my family who came before me to pave the way, so that I, as a Black Woman in America, could have a better life.
Arlene Hosea currently serves as the Assistant to the Vice President for Student Affairs and Director of Campus Dining Services at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois. Arlene is a Bloomington native and serves on the board of directors for The Baby Fold, Illinois Special Olympics, and is a member of the Town of Normal Human Relations Commission. Arlene graduated from Illinois State University B.S. ’82, M.S. ’84, and currently resides in Normal, Illinois with her husband, Ben Ryburn.