BHM HEROES: Bayard Rustin

During the month of February, BRTW ensemble members are selecting personal Black heroes to highlight everyday. These heroes may have spoken the magic words that first made them see their Black beauty, the people who inspired them to become artists, or even the person who taught them how to make proper mixed greens.

Bayard Rustin was a civil rights activist and openly gay advocate for social justice. Most people don’t know that he was integral in planning the March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech. He worked very closely with Dr. King as his advisor and even showed a young King the non-violent approach of protest that he embraced from Mahatma Gandhi. His steadfast commitment to Gandhi led him to travel to India the year Gandhi was assassinated. While in India, he attended a world pacifist conference. Upon returning to the states Rustin has been quoted as saying, “We need in every community a group of angelic troublemakers”, with which I couldn’t agree more. There needs to be a premium set on individuals disrupting the status quo. Individuals like Rustin helped to inspire that. Even if it’s not as crunk as BRTW tends to be. The status quo still needs to be questioned, probed and disrupted. Pacifism can be very effective when implemented by the right individuals in the right context. My personal belief is that we don’t need any shortage of tactics. We need not judge one’s specific tactic in the battle for liberation and human rights if it doesn’t agree with our own. We need to be able to approach problems that afflict us all from many different alleys of action. Rustin has helped to show us the fight from the pacifistic standpoint which often has its role in the struggle undermined or overlooked.

Rustin faced many criticisms and obstacles that stemmed from his sexuality. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. of New York, angry that Rustin and King were planning a march outside the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, warned King that if he did not drop Rustin, Powell would tell the press King and Rustin were gay lovers. King, in a moment of weakness gave in to the malice and cancelled the march. King also began to distance himself from Rustin in the days and months to come. Rustin would continue to fight for civil rights without King until his dying day. He, in my opinion was a man of grace and poise. A man who fought for the liberation of all people in the face of adversity and handled the adversity with aplomb. As hard as it is to fight for justice, it is even harder to fight when the people you are fighting for don’t fight for you.

Jovan Davis

Producing/Ensemble Member