I spent the first half of my life in my home state of Mississippi, where I attended college, started a career and began my work as a public servant. During that time, religious views, status quo and the opinion of the public influenced my views.
It was not until Gov. Phil Bryant and lawmakers were trying to pass House Bill 1523 in 2016 that I realized that it was time for me to stand in my truth and speak out.
I will never forget that I was home in Mississippi receiving the Top 50 Under 40 Award from the Mississippi Business Journal when the governor and lawmakers placed this bill on the House floor. I received a message from a young man who said his mother looked up to me but hated him for being gay. I then realized it was vital for me to stand in my truth even more.
I released a letter to my fellow LGBT family in Mississippi. In it, I talked about my personal lack of support, speaking out on behalf of the LGBT community, and using my platform to support and help fight discrimination. This step in standing in my truth was very scary, and I thought I would lose everything I had worked so hard for over the course of my 30 years on this earth. As it happened, I lost speaking engagements across the South, and many distanced themselves from my company.
As a result, I began the journey of finding my voice within my own truth in 2017. I began taking a closer look at the community I grew up in and how it cultivated my views. After speaking my truth, I began to find strength and a sense of boldness to speak up and speak out like never before.
On this journey, I started to speak up louder on issues such as the Confederate flag, health care, racial reconciliation, poverty, education, economic development, Emmett Till, and helping educate citizens across the South on how crucial it is to speak up and hold their political leaders accountable.
The most powerful moment in 2017 was when I organized and planned the
Emmett Till rally. This was the moment when my journey in finding my voice came full circle. I heard the news of Carolyn Bryant Donham, the woman who claimed Emmett Till whistled at her and attacked her, admitted that she lied. I spent a few weeks after hearing this news trying to decide how could I use my voice and my platform to speak up and to speak out against this injustice. I started by researching the case, speaking with different activists and other organizations.
During my research, I found that so many were afraid to touch this issue; instead, they were OK with staying quiet. At that moment I was quickly reminded of Congressman John Lewis’ words to me: “When you see injustice within your community, speak up, speak out—find a way to get in the way and make some noise for change.”
As a result, I planned and organized the Emmett Till rally, demanding justice and an apology for Carolyn Bryant Donham’s lie that led to Till’s murder. I learned the power of using your voice for change and ignoring the negative noise that comes with the territory of initiating change within your community. I also found the depth of my voice and how important it is always to step up and make noise when you see injustices.
Today, I want to encourage all readers, no matter what area of society in which you have influence, to always use your voice to speak up and speak out. True change-makers don’t get discouraged with noise and distractions. Instead, they ignore the noise because they understand that they must stay the course and speak up even when it seems like things are not changing.
I want to challenge you all to find your voice by standing in your authentic truth. Remember this: We must never stop speaking up against injustices within our community. What if civil-rights activists like Martin Luther King Jr. and Congressman John Lewis would have stopped speaking up against injustices within America? Would we have seen a Barack Obama?
Keep speaking truth to power.
Duvalier Malone, a Mississippi native, is a Washington, D.C.-based motivational speaker, political consultant and community activist. This column does not necessarily reflect the views of the Jackson Free Press.