It was a long time coming but I finally understood “no” was a complete sentence. No does not require explanation, statement or interpretation.
From the time of our birth, we are propelled into a yes-driven society. We have been conditioned to say yes when we really want to say no. We answer yes for inexhaustible reasons. Perhaps, you don’t want the corporate door to close in your face, so you work even harder for utopia. All the while praying your misguided faith in financial, political or religious utopia will not lead to embarrassment, betrayal or ruin. You answer yes in hopes of being in the assemblage. I’m going to drop this on you for free. Some of the most miserable people are those who practice “kiss the ring” with their lips while cursing the ringbearer with their heart. I’m going to repeat that for the people in the back.
The real superheroes in black culture are those who had the courage to say no and realized no was a complete sentence. Let’s visit a few.
The Haitian Revolt: A “NO” For Today, Tomorrow and Forevermore!
In August of 1791, an organized slave rebellion broke out, igniting the start of a twelve-year resistance to obtain human rights. The Haitian people said “no” to colonization, took up arms, crushed the French soldiers and maintained their freedom. The Haitian Revolution remains the only successful slave revolt in history and resulted in the establishment of Haiti, the first independent black state in the New World.
Claudette Colvin: I Said What I Said!
On March 2, 1955, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin got tired of “bowing” to white privilege on a segregated bus. She defiantly said no to giving up her seat to a white woman. This young American pioneer said what she said, was removed from the bus and was arrested. Her symbolic arrest was nine months before the Rosa Parks bus boycott. Indeed, Claudette Colvin was a fire starter for the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement Rosa Parks. On October 26, 2021, 82-year-old Claudette Colvin’s arrest record was expunged by Judge Calvin L. Williams in Montgomery, Alabama.
Woolworth’s Lunch Counter: Our “No” Today Will Be Our Please Be Seated Tomorrow!
On February 1, 1960, four African American college students sat down at a lunch counter at Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina. The students politely asked for service but their request was denied. (Could the color of their skin have anything to do with this rejection?) Of course, it had everything to do with race. When asked to leave, the students chose to remain seated. Their peaceful sit-down and non-violent resistance helped ignite a youth-sponsored movement to challenge racial inequality throughout the South and the North.
Today when you enter a restaurant and you are greeted with, please be seated, remember the names of David L. Richmond, Joseph A. McNeil, Franklin E. McCain and Ezell A. Blair Jr, (now Jibreel Khazan). These are the men who said “no” and meant it. They took the abuse and humiliation so that we can hear, please be seated.
In each of these settings, here are your takeaways. Somebody got tired. When people get tired of systems and barriers, they simply say no. No to systemic racism, no to injustice, no to caste systems, no to police brutality, no to corrupt governments, no to being redlined and sidelined and no to being treated less than a human being.
I am extremely grateful to our courageous ancestors who finally got tired. Their legacy and pursuit of justice continues to be my stay. Through their resilience and sacrifices, I am reminded “No” is a complete sentence. How about you?