by Jacquelyn Kelley ’17
My public and community service course, “The City & Its Cultures,” recently hosted Nancy Hood and Barry Brown, two Rhode Island activists who use their storytelling skills and musical talents to convey America’s history of injustice. Although they touched upon several movements in America, they primarily focused on the McCarthy era and Hood’s upbringing in a communist family.
Hood’s father served as the Chairperson of the Communist Party in their home state of Massachusetts, and later represented all of New England. As Senator Joseph McCarthy worked diligently to prosecute any Americans with a trace of allegiance to the Communist party, the FBI quickly targeted Hood’s father. She recalls agents stalking her family’s every move, receiving threatening phone calls from neighbors, and being called a “dirty commie” by her classmates at school.
Hood’s personal story exposed the discrimination and hatred she and her family faced due to their values and beliefs. As somebody without much background in the McCarthy era, I learned a lot from her story but was also moved by how relevant her hardships are today. Hood was quick to connect the prejudice she experienced with the injustice that abounds in America today, especially in light of our recent election and the inauguration of a leader who promotes hate.
The final song Hood performed was a rendition of “First They Came For,” a piece with constantly evolving lyrics as it is often re-worked to reflect upon current events. To give a brief synopsis, the song calls attention to the problem of inaction and underscores that when we fail to stand up for those who face injustice, there will be nobody left to stand up for us when we become the subjects of persecution.
She remained seated while singing most of the song, but there was a poignant moment toward the end in which she physically stood up from her seat, demonstrating that she will stand up for those who face hatred. As Hood sang the lyrics, “I hope you will stand with me,” I felt the urge to stand up myself, to demonstrate that I would stand with her and whoever else may need me, in the face of hatred, but I didn’t budge.
I looked around the room and did not see anybody else rise from their chairs, so I didn’t either. I succumbed to the pressure of the room and failed to act in that moment, but why? Because I was too shy? Too nervous? When the song came to an end, we discussed, as a group, the danger of inaction. Nothing will be accomplished if we allow our fears to control us the way we just had during that song, when we should have stood up for what was right.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the moment I didn’t stand up or last Saturday when I chose to do homework instead of participate in the Women’s March in Providence. I’m disappointed in myself for not being more proactive. I’m disappointed that I didn’t look past my own feelings or needs to fight for those of others. So, at this point, I’m feeling incredibly grateful for Hood and Brown’s visit because it was a much needed wake-up call for me to take a stand against the hatred and inequality our new administration perpetuates.