Native Guard

native guard

I picked up Native Guard, by Natasha Trethewey, on a whim. I was looking through the poetry section at Pioneer Book, and it was small enough to be easily tackled. The book is  half poetry about being a Black American generally, and half poetry about being a Black American during the Civil War. These last poems are imagined, of course, since the Civil War was about 150 years ago—but it’s a side of the war we don’t often hear about, especially that of a Black soldier.

To be honest, I don’t have much to say about this collection of poetry. It’s good, but I can’t really tell you why. It’s not overly flowery, but it’s not exactly everyday slice-of-life stuff, either. It does a good job of presenting the difficulties of Black Americans and the way their stories fit into American history overall. I would recommend it to probably anyone. 4 stars. ♥


I Have a Dream: the Most Christian Movement America Has Seen

On August 27, 1963, thousands of Americans – Black and White – marched to the nation’s capitol in Washington, D.C. in protest. They were protesting the racial segregation of schools, discrimination in the job market, police brutality, and inferior social treatment of African Americans. It was at this protest that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the “I Have a Dream” speech that still remains famous today.

This isn’t the most well-known part of this speech, but I’d like to share a part of it here:

“We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protests to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny.

“They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone. And as we walk we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. “

This is my favorite part of this speech – frankly, because I’m White. I was raised with the expectation that anyone of any race should be on level ground already – but I was also raised in Utah, where most of the population is White. So I grew up thinking I was racist, because I didn’t have any Black friends. It wasn’t until later on that I realized I just didn’t know any Black people. It took me, sadly, a few decades of life to figure out that being White doesn’t mean I oppress people like other White people have.

I love this speech because of its obvious, Christian doctrine of forgiveness. The nonviolence of the Civil Rights Movement shaped the minds of White America by showing a love from the Black community that most sheltered white people hadn’t seen before – they hadn’t spent enough time with Black Americans. The nonviolent protest showed the way society was supposed to work, and forgave and welcomed White Americans as soon as they wanted to join forces. There was no backlash or revenge – just a demand for equal treatment.

The purpose of the Civil Rights Movement, including Dr. King’s involvement, was to assume that “sneetches are sneetches, and no kind of sneetch is the best on the beaches.” (to quote Dr. Suess, if I may be so bold.) The movement was one of the finest examples of Christianity the world has ever seen, because it focused not on penance for sins past, but on forgiveness and improvement, offering to turn enemies into best friends. It is to fight hate with love, which is the finest thing humans are capable of. God rest you, Dr. King. ♦

You can read the full text of the speech here.

Lessons Learned: Freshman vs. Senior Year

Lessons learned from my freshman year of college, 2007-8:

  • Thirty dollars is all in how you spend it.
  • You can buy a lot of black beans with thirty dollars.
  • If you don’t like someone, don’t let them eat your bread; once you feed them, they’ll never go away.
  • Manbrownies don’t taste as good as regular brownies, but most women still prefer them. Maybe we just like the attention. Or maybe it’s the convenience. In some cases, maybe we just like the men who make them.
  • Men’s soap is cheaper than women’s soap.
  • Men’s razors are cheaper than women’s razors.
  • Men’s pants are cheaper than women’s pants.
  • Men’s pants don’t fit me.
  • Poltergeists bring brownies. Men also bring brownies. By deductive reasoning, then, men are poltergeists.
  • The words “you did what?” usually indicate a flagrant breach in social etiquette.
  • 3-person dates aren’t really much fun.
  • 4- or 6-person dates, however, are a blast.
  • Masked men, though dashing, are seldom to be trusted.
  • Cameras are never present when you need them.
  • If your door rattles during the night, you can wedge your roommate’s shoe against it to keep it still.
  • Hillary can condense an entire truckload of junk into six square feet beneath her bed.
  • Nine blankets in wintertime are not enough.
  • You never realize God is carrying you until He puts you down and you see how far you’ve come.
  • I can go exactly three days without Matchbox Twenty.
  • Ancient Romans had a brilliant language. Don’t ever learn it.
  • Some TAs will give you extra points on an essay for knowing the names of obscure alcohols.
  • Missionaries may write their mothers, but they never tell them anything.
  • Chewing annoys me. Reading over my shoulder annoys me. Both, apparently, incites homicidal tendencies.
  • Constant movie quotes, on the other hand, are perfectly acceptable, as is hysterical laughter.
  • Jenna and I were squirrels in a former life. Phoenix-squirrels. Tshaiga, I call them. If you can pronounce the word “chmig’pa,” you might be one, too.
  • Rochelle’s hiccups are violent.
  • Finishing an essay a week in advance is much more fun than finishing it the night before it’s due.
  • Multiple-choice history tests are amazing.
  • Multiple-choice religion tests are a crime.
  • I’m a freaking pansy.
  • Rhapsody in Blue relieves stress.
  • Some men just don’t know when to shut up.
  • Jackie’s nervous baking + my nervous eating = 5 lbs. gain… and somehow, a smaller pants size.
  • Some people never stop dancing.
  • Irish dancing produces man-calves.
  • Knee-length boots and man-calves don’t work well together.
  • My mother really doesn’t understand Homestar Runner.
  • Sugar burns. Spectacularly.
  • I hate cold weather.
  • If you put the peanut butter on the counter, Jackie will eat it in a day. If you put it in the cupboard, she’ll eat it in a week. If you put it on a high shelf, it might last a month, depending how long it takes for her to find it. But if it’s under your bed, she doesn’t touch it.
  • God is merciful. Were this not the case, I would have been struck down by now.
  • Lightning doesn’t strike indoors.
  • Nothing makes you appreciate your parents like moving in with roommates.
  • Nothing makes you appreciate your roommates like moving in with your parents.
  • The gospel is true; if it weren’t, its teenage members would have destroyed it by now. Instead, somehow they survive, thrive, and grow, as does the church. Miraculous.

Lessons learned from my senior year of college: 2012-13:

  • If you’re a good cook, you can go weeks (or months) without buying groceries. Especially if your roommates aren’t good cooks.
  • The most attractive thing to be is yourself. If your self needs work, work on it. But make sure you’re working on the parts you want to change – not the parts you think a guy would want you to change.
  • If you like someone, tell them.
  • If you want to date someone, tell them. Then ask them on a date.
  • A date is not a marriage proposal.
  • If a guy won’t call it a date, you’re not dating.
  • If you’re not dating, ad you wish you were, stop. Just stop. Go find someone else to wish you were dating. And then date him.
  • If you’re in danger of failing a class, talk to the professor. They don’t want you to fail.
  • Being on a first-name basis with your professor isn’t sucking up. It’s spending enough time to prove you want to learn the material.
  • Finishing an essay a week in advance is much more fun than finishing it the night before it’s due.
  • Multiple-choice history tests are horrifying.
  • If your essays are good enough, sometimes the professor will overlook a failing grade on a multiple-choice test.
  • If you still think your answer is right, go talk to the professor. If you can prove him wrong, he might still give you points.
  • If the food is really good, it will cause dancing.
  • I’m a super wimp in cold weather.
  • When biking, slow down under bridges.
  • Cool river water will do a wonderful job of icing a broken hand. Same goes for frozen vegetables. Smoothies help, too.
  • It’s simply amazing how many things you can do with only one hand.
  • It takes a really long time to put on women’s jeans with only one hand.
  • Tying a ponytail with one hand isn’t worth the time and effort. Chop the hair off.
  • I look good with short hair. Who knew?
  • Chocolate milk makes everything better.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. was a boss. So was Fred Shuttlesworth, Rosa Parks, Ralph Abernathy, and Diane Nash.
  • People get mad at you if you turn off your cell phone for a day.
  • Turning off your cell phone for a day and “unplugging” is well worth the trouble.
  • Park City is beautiful,has clean air, and is about 10 degrees cooler than Provo.
  • “Doctor De Soto Goes to Africa” is quite possibly the funniest children’s book ever written.
  • Love isn’t just about romance. It’s about sticking together when things get rough.
  • If you’d rather be in the hospital with him than anywhere else without him, you might be in love.
  • If he inspires you to be better every day, he’s a keeper.
  • God will take care of those who follow Him, and those who wait on His timing.

Civil Rights Saga: Episode 4


Remember Brother Malden? What better way could you start a Sunday morning than hanging out in the Malden barber shop? We stayed and talked with Brother Malden for about half an hour, touring the barber shop (which was absolutely covered in pictures of celebrities who had come to the barber shop – either to get their hair cut or, like us, just to say they’d been there.


This is the chair Dr. King usually sat in.


Brother Malden is the definition of networking.

Now, I have no idea how Brother Malden got hold of these (I think I was looking at pictures when he explained it), but this man has a copy of Dr. Martin Luther King’s grades. And let me tell you, as college students, we were very interested to know what this man’s transcript looked like. And I think all of us were more than a little comforted to see his report card peppered with C’s. I said to myself, “Self: you do not have to be an A student to make a difference in the world!” And thank heavens, because… I’m definitely not.



Hey, Mom! Guess who else was bad at statistics?

Let’s be real here – this car has nothing to do with the Civil Rights Movement. But Brother Malden just got even cooler when we saw what he drove.


From the barbershop, we headed over to the Montgomery State Building. This particular weekend (as we had brilliantly planned) was the yearly anniversary celebration of Bloody Sunday. On March 7, 1965, Civil Rights protesters began a march from Selma, Alabama to this building in Montgomery. As the crowd came across the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, however, they met a line of policemen barring their way. After a few confusing moments, the police advanced and then attacked the unarmed crowd. Footage of police beatings was broadcast across America, and a few days later, another march was organized, led by Dr. King. This time, however, they marched only as far as the police line, knelt to pray, and then turned back and marched home. The third attempt was protected by federal troops, and days later the crowd arrived in Montgomery.  On the steps of this building, Dr. Martin Luther King gave a speech, asking “How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?…. How long? Not long.”



As the “cradle of the Confederacy,” the Montgomery State Building still has a statue of Jefferson Davis.

And then: on to church at Dexter Avenue! From the steps of the state building, you can see the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King preached. The sermon that day (“A Filthy Rag Around a Leaky Faucet”) drew parallels from the Bible, from modern life, and from the Civil Rights Movement (the preacher was well aware that we were in town for Bloody Sunday). Everybody in the chapel wanted to say hello, and it was one of the most friendly, comfortable atmospheres I’ve ever encountered. My personal highlights were the organ player (who was good enough to play with one hand for half the service), the piano player (who was good enough to play with her eyes closed during the prayers), and the latter part of the sermon, when Rev. Handy took us through the ABC’s of sins that needed to be removed from our lives:

A is for Adultery – Kill it right now!

B is for Blasphemy (Kill it right now!)

C is for Covetousness (Kill it right now!)



I don’t remember them all, but I do remember that Z was for Zaniness and other buffoonery, because we all looked at Jonathan, one of our instructors – who looked a little sheepish and slunk down on the pew a little more. He later apologized for some of his zany behavior (which, of course, didn’t stop a sing-along later in the car).



Finally, we made it to Selma. After another run-in with the Secret Service (which was really less of a run-in and more of a traffic jam), we made it to the bridge and split up: half of us went to cross the bridge with the protesters, and half to watch the crowd surge over the top of the bridge. I opted to cross the bridge. On our side, the whole town was turned into a street market for the waiting protesters. Food vendors lined the streets, and the whole town smelled like cooking meat, fries, and soul food. In the middle of the streets, there were jewelry stands, souvenir stands, and CD vendors – who blasted music so loud that the entire block sounded like a party.


This is the greatest (and largest) cheeseburger I have ever eaten in my life.


Unfortunately, I already had that cheeseburger in my stomach when I saw this advertisement. I have no idea whether there was real alligator meat at this stand.

And then, we started to cross the bridge:





I think this was my favorite experience of the trip. It gave you a feeling of just how huge the Movement was – and continues to be today. As we marched, we saw protesters in the crowd, some for better treatment as black citizens, but most were protesting the unethical treatment of the Latino community. (I was surprised not to see any protesters from the homosexual community.) It was strange to be sandwiched between celebration and protest – there was a sense of pride in the rights that were fought for and won – not given, but earned. And there was also a feeling of hunger, that an end of injustice in one place could signal an end of injustice everywhere. There was definitely a feeling that those in the crowd knew how far we’ve come, but also knew that we have far to go before we really achieve a perfect people. It was a very moving experience to be there, a part of it.













One of our last stops was a little fenced-in memorial on the side of the highway. This was a memorial for Viola Liuzzo, a white woman who was run off the road and shot for offering rides to Montgomery Blacks who were boycotting the bus system. This memorial served as another reminder to me that this was not an issue of race, but an issue of hatred.





The complete absence of traffic seemed almost too good to be true.


It was. The Secret Service had caught up with us again. (This time it was Joe Biden, who had come to speak at the bridge crossing.) They had stopped traffic to take over the road again, and the traffic became absolutely hideous after they passed. I do wonder what they thought of our little group, chilling on the side of the road as they drove past. Fortunately, nobody got shot. In fact, one of the passengers waved.

The next day, we drove back to the airport and headed back to Utah (and 4 of us to Ohio). Nobody wanted to go home, and I think a chunk of my heart is still in Alabama. But it was a life-changing experience, and it’s really none of my business to keep it to myself. So I’m back to stay for now, and I’m here to change things – and people – for the better. 


Civil Rights Saga: Episode 3

Our adventure on Saturday began with a long-sought-after encounter with John Lewis. In the 60’s, John Lewis was one of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. When we heard that (now) Congressman John Lewis was going to be coming to practically all the same sites we were – at the same time – we were hoping we could get to talk with him. We were, after all, huge fans.

Our enthusiasm waned when we realized that there was not a chance we were going to come within a stone’s throw of John Lewis. Or, for that matter, of any of the museums he was in. With the Secret Service everywhere and snipers on the rooftops, we made a few U-turns (of questionable legality) and switched our schedule a bit – since it seemed that Mr. Lewis had stolen our itinerary and copied it word for word.


The Secret Service – not cool, John Lewis.

Once we had switched things up a bit, we ended up at the Rosa Parks museum (sans Secret Service). There was a little re-enactment, as well as a documents from the Montgomery Bus Boycott that went on for a year after Mrs. Parks refused to give up her seat. It was impressive just how humble a woman Rosa Parks was, as well as how well-prepared she was for the crisis: she had taken workshops in nonviolent resistance, she was a secretary for the NAACP, and she was a youth leader. So when she decided she wasn’t going to take it anymore, she knew how to make her simple action into a meaningful protest. Overnight, a woman named JoAnn Robinson initiated a bus boycott that had already been in the making, with Mrs. Parks as the spotlight heroine.




This quote was quite possibly my favorite part of the whole museum.



After visiting Rosa Parks, we went to the Freedom Riders museum. These volunteer riders piled into integrated buses, riding north-south in protest of the southern segregation laws. Upon reaching the South, buses were fire-bombed, and occupants were dragged out, beaten viciously, and jailed. After meeting Catherine Burks Brooks previously, we were all super excited to see more of this story. The museum itself was built in an old, segregated Greyhound station, and the exhibits were largely projects from local artists.


This was the old “colored” entrance to the bus station, bricked in years ago.












We found a picture of our new friend Catherine Burks Brooks!



After the Freedom Riders museum, we stopped for lunch at a local BBQ place. This sign was the highlight, and I consider it the pinnacle of neon achievement:


Beautiful. Just beautiful.

Then we headed to the University of Alabama campus, to meet Reverend Bob Graetz and his wife, Jeannie. The Graetzes were definitely  one of the best parts of the trip for most of us; you can only learn so much from a museum exhibit, but you can learn a whole lot from someone who lived through the event itself. Reverend Graetz was the pastor of a Lutheran church in a Negro community just before the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and he told us about his involvement in the Movement. He and his wife helped their congregation by offering and coordinating carpool rides, and their home was bombed by an angry white community. As a white woman, the Graetzes meant something special to me because they provided an example of  the white “heroes” of the Movement. It reassured me that not all white people of the era were racist.


Here’s a plug – Reverend Graetz has written a few books, including “A White Preacher’s Memoir” (which I just read – and it is fantastic) and “A White Preacher’s Message on Race And Reconciliation: Based on His Experiences Beginning With the Montgomery Bus Boycott.”

We got to see the house Dr. Martin Luther King and his family lived in while in Montgomery (and I of course forgot to take pictures, so here’s one I kaifed from the internet):

mlk home montgomery


The porch still bears scars from a bombing.


Brother Malden with me and Alexis

And then the Maldens! Nelson Malden was Martin Luther King’s barber, and we got to eat dinner at his and his wife Dean’s house and talk with them about the Movement. Barbershops were a social center of the day, and Brother Malden talked about how Dr. King would come just to sit sometimes and study. (For some reason, I just can’t call these two “Mister” and “Missus”. I automatically call them “Brother” and “Sister” – probably because we sang hymns with them at the end of dinner.)  Brother Malden also talked about how much empowerment the bus drivers took from inflicting simple abuse on the black riders. 

Sister Malden impressed me (and not just with her cooking.) When one member of our group asked how she kept from hating white people for what they’d done, she looked puzzled and asked for the question to be repeated. After the question was repeated a few times, she said, “Why would anybody hate all white people?” She was honestly stunned that anybody would be angry at the whole population for the actions of a few – or even of a majority. She simply didn’t see the Movement in terms of black and white: it was a matter of treating people like they should be, on an individual basis. ♥


Sister Malden and me

Civil Rights Saga: Episode 2

100_3045Day 2 of our action-packed Civil Rights adventure took us to Birmingham, Alabama – home of some of the worst violence of the Movement in the 60’s. Our first stop was Kelly Ingram Park, a memorial to the violence against the “foot soldiers” who marched from 16th Street Baptist Church, protesting. This is where “Bull” Connor ordered his men to unleash fire hoses and police dogs on the protesters – most of whom were children. It was freezing cold Friday morning, but it was a moving experience.


This tree still bears the scars of high-pressure fire hoses. These hoses were turned on unprotected marchers.


This was my favorite part of the park, with the upside-down writing.


Here’s the whole thing together.


Looking through the monument.

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These dogs were easily the most terrifying part of the park. You got to walk between them, as though you were marching in between angry policemen siccing their dogs on you.

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In the midst of the violence, 3 ministers knelt and began to pray. This sculpture is a tribute to their faith and nonviolent reaction to the chaos of segregation and oppression.



This sculpture has a fire hose set up across from it, pointing toward these children.

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Staring down the barrel of a fire hose.

After wandering through the park, we went for a tour of 16th Street Baptist Church (which is just kitty-corner). At this church, a bomb was planted during  youth Sunday school, and 4 little girls were killed. Although the man who planted the bomb was widely suspected (and practically bragged about it), he wasn’t brought to justice until decades later.

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In addition to killing the girls, the bomb also severely damaged a corner of the church building. This stained glass window had to be repaired, because Jesus’s face was missing after the blast. The newspapers printed pictures of the damaged Jesus to call attention to the crisis of racism.


This window was donated by the people of Wales, in sympathy for the Civil Rights struggle. The man is not a black Jesus – he has one hand pushing up against oppression, and one hand open to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness.


These are the little girls who were killed: Addie Mae Collins, Carol Denise McNair, Carole Rosamond Robertson, and Diane Wesley.

After visiting the church, we toured the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (where pictures were not allowed). It was one of the most emotional experiences of the trip for me, because it described just how intense the oppression and hatred were that black people had to face; as I walked through the exhibits, I felt the pain and suffering of my friends, while I felt the guilt of my own race. I stopped to pray for a while, and was later comforted by pictures of protesters with white faces in the crowd. It really brought it home for me that the struggle was not one race against the other, but humanity against inhumanity – all colors included.

After lunch was the highlight of the day: Catherine Burks Brooks.


This is Catherine Burks at the time of the Freedom Rides. The inscription to the right actually belongs to another rider – Paul Brooks, who would later become Catherine’s husband.

Catherine, now in her 80’s, met with us at the Alabama Power building and told us about her experience as a Freedom Rider. She boarded a bus, along with other black and white students who supported integration, and rode down from Memphis, Tennessee to Montgomery, Alabama in protest of Alabama’s segregated bus system. Upon reaching Alabama, buses were firebombed, riders were beaten nearly to death and jailed, and promised police protection failed to arrive or respond. Catherine told us about being arrested and dropped off near the state border – dangerously close to a white town, which would ensure their further abuse or even lynching. She told us about flirting with “Bull” Connor and giving him a piece of her mind. She told us about her group picking their way back to a safe area, where they could board the next bus and try it all over again. According to Mrs. Brooks, the best thing to do was just to “keep on keepin’ on;” not to get bogged down in the details or scared of how monumental the task was, but to take it one day at a time. She told us that was the best way to make the world better today – do a little every day, and just keep on keepin’ on.  

Civil Rights Saga: Episode 1

This semester, I was invited to participate in a Civil Rights Movement seminar. The first half of the class was historical content. After that, we would all take a trip to Georgia and Alabama and visit key historical sites and museums about the Black Civil Rights Movement in the 60’s. The second half of the course (from about now on) is designed to be a community outreach effort. Basically, it was a few months of history, 4 days of intense, emotional impact – experiencing the kind of influence the movement really had – and then back to Provo to speak to campus groups, high schools, and whoever else will listen about racism and its effects. It was an amazing experience (and still is!)

The first site we saw in Atlanta was the Martin Luther King museum. Here are a few pictures:













James Peck, a Freedom Rider, displays the welcome he received in 1961.



















I think the highlight of the day was touring the home that Dr. King grew up in. “Daddy King,” Martin’s father, preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church, just around the corner. (We tried to tour that, too, but a 6th grade class had the same brilliant idea, and we were overrun by stampede of schoolchildren.) The home was a large, middle-class house, and most of the furniture and decorations had been restored as they were when he was growing up. the most impressive thing, however, was the way he grew up. In most households of the time – black or white – children were “heard but not seen.” Not the case in the King household. Every night, the King household would sit down to dinner together, and every child would recite a scripture. (Martin’s favorite verse was, “Jesus wept.”) After reciting a scripture, the children were expected to join in conversation, and talk about local events reported in the paper, debating about their importance and impact. Is it any wonder that Martin grew to be such an amazing speaker and influential man?

“What the Chicken” sounded funny, but we decided in favor of Johnny Rockets instead.

Life-changing milkshake.


Dinner was also inspiring. We headed to the food court and decided against What the Chicken,”because I had discovered that there was a Johnny Rockets nearby – and if you know anything about me, it is that I will do anything legal for a good cheeseburger. What I didn’t suspect was an apple pie milkshake – as in, somebody put a piece of apple pie in a blender and served it to me in a cup. It was like shooting straight sugar into my veins. I was so hyper. I think I scared people. ♦