A Reflection on the Life of Harvey Milk
Over a year ago I went to watch MILK, a movie portraying the life of prominent gay rights activist Harvey Milk. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and so much of the film resonates with the culture I grew up in; one of my close friends from college’s father was Milk’s doctor.
I stumbled upon the following e-mail that I sent to a friend after reflecting on the movie. As I think about the potential we have to shift the tides of society, examples like this remind me that it doesn’t matter what age we are when we start – it’s just important that we do.
It’s 2:03am on Saturday morning my time and I just returned from seeing MILK. I sat there watching and couldn’t help but wonder what the great movements of our time will be, who will lead them and what type of change we will see. I can’t believe that people were being beat to death on the streets of the city that would become my home only ten years before I was born. This past Christmas, a mere thirty years after the gay rights movement began, I viewed the memorabilia of the LGBTQ movement in a museum in the Castro. People still die in many corners of this country because of their sexual orientation, but not like they used to, and now you can go to Dupont Circle in Washington, DC and see the police station where the officers are trained to engage with the LGBTQ community in a constructive way. The system respecting human dignity.
It was only a few people, sitting around a coffee table talking about the things that they thought were normal, or should be normal. They discussed what felt right, what they wanted 'normal' to be. People coming together to address issues in their communities.
They did one thing at a time.
They looked for the possibilities.
They search for common ground.
They worked together.
They built a movement.
What will be our movements? Who will lead us? What injustices do we see in our communities?
It doesn’t take an education to move mountains. As the closing scene repeats Harvey Milks words from earlier on in the film, he said “I am 40 and I haven’t done anything in my life that I am proud of” and yet by the time he died at the age of 48, he had won battles and fanned the flame of hope for so many living in fear and isolation.
What will we do before we turn 50? Before we turn 40, or even 30? What causes are in our world, in the lives of our neighbors and our communities that need someone to lead them? What are we willing to risk our lives for?
Will we lead? Will we be on the right side of history….