Destiny is formed of a path. A long path. And we walk it every day.

We all have different paths to walk. But all our paths entail crossroads.

There are some crossroads that present themselves far outside of our expectations. And the path we are on, at any given moment may, before us, toss out a crossroad, like an iron barb, where we’ll have to decide our direction. Whether to go straight or back, left or right. It is in this way that destiny becomes something we take part in choosing stride by stride, turn by turn, step by step. Every chunk of cement we kick. And every choice we accept or make. 

We make many choices. Per second. Upwards of 35,000 a day. 

So, a gal named Claire O’Connor made roughly 665,000 choices over the bulk of about 19 years that led her to saying yes to getting on the bus. Yes to acts of civil disobedience. 

Let’s not kid ourselves into thinking civil disobedience is an outlier. There would be no Colonies or American Revolution without disobedience against a government, and though it became honorably refined by Gandhi at the turn of the 20th century, it’s a response at least as old as the writings of Thoreau in the 1840s if not – going back into our history – as old as man.

Choices on a path of destiny led O’Connor into the south rather than point condescendingly at it from the comfort of her Minnesota back yard.

She wasn’t emotionally following the crowd. Ever see how many people in a group step up do the right thing in a risky situation? Even those who think of or know what the right thing is won’t necessarily risk their comfort, security, or safety to do it. There was no crowd.

What called her into adversity? Perhaps, as her mother said, she realized,

"changes will come about only when their action sets off the necessary reaction-which all of us hear, and all freedom loving people everywhere, wake up to the seriousness of the situation and demand that the federal government do something about it. We must begin to realize that as long as a single state, with impunity, defies the law of the nation, to that extent law and order are everywhere threatened." -Justine O’Connor *

Destiny tells us what time it is.

I got to talk to Claire O'Connor (pictured in the mugshot above) face-to-face, albeit virtually, last year (2022). A post of our conversation, is something I hope to share with you soon. For now, I'd like to share a refresh of the post about her that I originally presented for ARTHAUS:Detroit subscribers, June 7, 2021...

I was a Freedom Rider. 

That might be Claire O’Connor’s response. That is, if someone asks her what she did, where she stood, where she was at during the tumultuous 1960s. 

Freedom Riders were not a biker gang. Something people often think when she says as much to them. 

Freedom Riders were civil rights activists who challenged the non-enforcement of the U. S. Supreme Court decisions which ruled that segregated public buses were unconstitutional. Freedom Riders came in all stripes, from all backgrounds, because they understood that you can't overcome racism with racism. They knew intrinsically that you have to fight racism with cross-cultural solidarity. 

Knowledge is power and the key to preventing - as C.S. Lewis put it - the horror of the same old thing.

Why would O'Connor, a white licensed practical nurse and student from Minnesota, sign up for the abuse and life-threatening danger faced by people who willingly rode integrated buses into states that upheld segregation? Because, at the time, it was pretty much the same abuse and life-threatening danger faced by hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children of color every day, especially in the south. Men, women, and children who lived with extrinsically imposed indignities on a daily basis as a matter of course, whom she didn’t see herself as superior to. 

Raised by socially, historically, and politically astute parents, she was built to do whatever she could to help give equal access and empowerment to the marginalized. O'Connor has actually spent her whole life "creating social, political, and economic change."

On June 11, 1961, Claire O'Connor, a member of SNCC -- the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee -- went with fellow Freedom Riders, referred to as the Minnesota 6, for a bus ride. It would be an interstate bus ride, heading from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi. A well-worn route.

Her Minnesota travel companions were Zev Aelony, Robert Baum, Eugene Uphoff, Marvin Davidov, and David Morton. A bunch of names that sound as much like a rag tag crew of local rock bandmates than a handful of political activists. 

O'Connor, the only woman among the Minnesota six, had to be brave, but that doesn't mean she wasn't scared. She's acknowledged that she was afraid. But she was well trained by SNCC. And committed to doing the right thing. Sometimes, as they say, you have to "do it scared."

When the bus had stopped at Batesville, Mississippi, instead of going to the "white" waiting room, the six went to the "colored" waiting room where they were promptly arrested at its lunch counter. For this, they were charged with breaching the peace. After a night in jail and a perfunctory trial and conviction, O'Connor and her companions were sentenced to four more months in jail. But that jail time was part of a campaign by the state of Mississippi to wear activists down, with their brand of law and order. 

After a few days, O'Connor's male companions were moved from jail to the men's section of the infamous Parchman Prison. She was also moved after a couple of weeks. Her lot was to spend time in the women's section of Parchman, a place where body cavity searches, verbal abuse, and deprivation were routine.

Many Freedom Riders were arrested before them. And many would come after. So many were filling Parchman that prison staff moved them from prison cells to dormitories. 

While O'Connor didn't end up staying all four months, 28 days -- essentially a month -- in a notoriously harsh penal system was plenty. When the Minnesota 6 were all released, they hoped to stress and oppress the Mississippi justice system with appeals. After all, it was with persistent use of process, not violence, that they intended to win this war. Appeals, not surprisingly, were met with further resistance. New trials. Two a day.

Strife has a tendency to make or break you. Adding to her education and applied skills in non-violent resistance, O’Connor’s prison stay didn’t break her. It steeled her resolve to work harder as an activist. She did her part then, and has never stopped living as a force for change. 

Even after being released from an arduous time in prison and returning home from the south, O'Connor went back to Mississippi -- Panola County, specifically – this time to register black voters. She worked as a community organizer in Mississippi. And, later, with life taking her much further north, in Manitoba, Canada, she worked across many years in community outreach with marginalized populations there. Stateside, it’s reported that O'Connor also helped found Minnesota's first community-based alternative school. And even some of her present art work makes reference to the activism that has always been a core part of who she is.

At the time of her June 11 Freedom Ride journey, O'Connor was a college student and LPN. She later went on to earn Master's degrees in both Education and Anthropology, studying in Minnesota, Indiana, and – this is where Canada enters the picture – Manitoba. 

On this path, O’Connor learned a lot about man’s cruelty to man up close and personal. But it’s clear that those who could kill the body were never as dangerous to her as those who would kill the soul and deny life, liberty, and dignity to other human beings.

Claire O'Connor has never been daunted by having to swim upstream. She’s known full well that, often, doing the right thing demands it. 

So what about us? What do we know of the history that passion plays itself out before us? What do we know of the right thing and what to do about it? As individuals, and as a country, where would you say personal and collective choices of destiny have taken us

There are folks among us who’ve never heard of the Freedom Riders or think that they were a biker gang. More sad, or scary, is that there are people my age – and maybe I’m dating myself, but I was born before the Civil Rights Voting Act was passed – who don't know who Frederick Douglass was, let alone who the Freedom Riders are. 

Whatever it is that has made this possible, if we keep doin' it...keep doin' what we're doin,'… we're gonna keep gettin' what we've been getting.

Knowledge is power. And a key to the preventing, as C.S. Lewis put it, the horror of the same old thing.

There’s this thing called destiny that tells us what time it is.

There’s a time to get off the bus, as in boycott, peaceably defy or resist – thank you, Rosa Parks, Elizabeth Jennings Graham, Irene Morgan, Mohandas Gandhi, Bayard Rustin, Sarah Keys, Aurelia Browder, Lillie Mae Bradford, Fred Korematsu, Claudette Colvin, Mary Louise Smith, Susie McDonald… There’s also a time to get on – thank you, Freedom Riders. 

Destiny can be something we choose. Or turn away from. 

I know. We often think of it as something that presents itself like a hurricane or a fire or defining moment of bravery before some potentially life-altering event that comes only to a select few who go on to become our heroines and heroes. 

And yes. I want both those words in that order and rhythm.

Destiny is formed of a path. A long path. And we walk it every day.

We all have different paths to walk. But all paths entail crossroads. Which ways we go and turn are a part of our soul work that reflect our values at whatever given time.

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