But there is reason to believe that it is. As a professor of social justice advocacy and leadership, I have found inspiration in the stories of past leaders who have confronted racial injustice without wavering. These leaders and role models are not always people with titles like CEO, executive director, or president — in fact, they often have titles like “activist,” “citizen,” or quite simply, “mother.”
Lesson: Media matters — especially Black media
Beulah Mae Donald was not a crusading journalist, but her decision to press for justice for her son led to the founding of a Black newspaper by her attorney, Alabama State Sen. Michael Figures. His paper, The New Times, and the African American press, including publications like Jet magazine, elevated the death of Michael Donald from a local footnote to a national headline — pressuring the successful prosecutions of Michael’s killers.
Lesson: Be persistent
In the months following Michael Donald’s death, his mother couldn’t rely on local police to ceaselessly pursue justice on her child’s behalf. It took pressuring the Justice Department to see authorities pursue the case until they found Donald’s killers, two years after he was lynched.
The story of Michael Donald’s mother Beulah Mae Donald should inspire America to persist in holding accountable those who desecrate and destroy black lives.
Lesson: The eloquence of example
Beulah Mae Donald is not remembered for stirring oratory. In fact, she leaves behind no widely cited quotes. She was, however, known by her actions. A loving mother to her children and a woman of deep faith, she taught her children to live, in the words of her daughter Cecelia Perry, a “good life.” Sam Jones, the former mayor of Mobile, Alabama, describes her as a “model mother.” Perhaps what drew people to her case was not only the brutality of the death of her son, but the eloquence of her example. Speaking through your actions with the ring of sincerity can motivate other people to act.
Lesson: Have courage
When she challenged this violent organization, she did so without any state or federal protection. By contrast, when Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama took on Al Qaeda, they did so behind a wall of Secret Service protection.
Few Americans may be called upon to fight terrorism abroad or at home, but we are all called to confront hate with courage.
We should all ask ourselves how we can demonstrate the same degree of courage and character in our lives to pursue justice, and to do so with grace and dignity.