Monday, August 18, 2014

St. Louis Movie Nights

Two of the major inflection points in my life, both happened in the greater St. Louis area.

I have written several times about the Space Shuttle flying through Scott AFB while we were stationed there in the early 1980s.

As a college student in the late 1990s, I was hired as a cooperative education student for a company in St. Louis.  I lived in an apartment in Hazelwood, perhaps 5 miles away from Ferguson, MO.  My roommate was a Mechanical Engineering student from Florida, studying at Tuskegee.  Yes, she is black.

We moved in, in January, and she didn't have a winter coat.  I taught her what I knew about getting through snow, ice, and winter.  She taught me more.

Another set of male co-op students lived across the street from us, one from Tuskegee and the other from Iowa State.  The young man from Tuskegee was working near me, and had a car, so he was my ride to work.

Neither of them got very political.  They did, however, quietly pass on eating at Denny's.

On weekends, the Tuskegee students carried out the Movie Night tradition, and we usually joined them.  I didn't usually pick the movies.  This was a good thing, because the one time I did - well, Waterworld nearly made ME fall asleep.

I don't know the names of all the movies we watched.  We were roommates again in the fall, so there were probably 30-36 weekends, all told.  I don't remember how many movies we watched.  All I know, is that I watched, and they made me think.  I had studied my history, been taught in a social justice tradition, and yet the dry text did not drive home quite how bad it was.

[Major TRIGGER WARNING for this section, as I discuss the things I saw and learned from the movies, including discussions of rape, assault, lynchings]

As a female, I had been raised to be careful while walking.  I had a set of rules that I followed on campus, to try not to get raped:
  • Never go to a party alone, always go with a friend.
  • At a party, don't drink.  Or, if I do taste alcohol, don't ever get drunk.
  • In my first few years on campus, I almost never walked alone.  I'd usually get my fiance to walk me to evening midterms and activities.
I put a lot of time and energy into keeping myself safe on campus, and I didn't date around.  I met my now-husband my first week on campus, we got engaged in a matter of weeks, and we're still together.

So for all of the energy that I put into going through life without getting raped... to watch the movies, and realize what lynchmobs did to the women of color... that made me stop.
End Trigger Warning]

The movies made me feel.  They made me think.  It made me watch what I saw around me.

I don't know what I thought would happen after that.  I went back to campus for the summer, and took Sociology 100 as a Maymester course.  We learned about the Tuskegee syphilus study.  Stockholm syndrome.  Sociological research ethics.

My summer roommate was also black.  She told me a little bit about the Black - Native American heritage.  When we moved out at the end of the summer, she had a textbook that she offered to me.  Malcolm X's biography.  I accepted it, and I read it.

I had my own car when I went back for the Fall semester.  I got involved with a nearby community band.  Doing a Google search, I suspect it was the Northwinds Concert Band.

Northwinds Concert Band is a program of the Community Education Department of Ferguson-Florissant School District.

The 1990's in the St. Louis area, started to wake me up.  Continued to wake me up?  They changed my views on life.