(p. 193, 194, 195)
‘Whenever I hear Paul Simon’s song “Born at the Right Time,” I think he must be singing about me. I came into the world in 1954 in Mississippi – – a state with more lynchings than any other in the Union – – at a time when being a black man walking down the street minding your business could make you subject to any white person’s accusation or whimsy. A time when having a good job meant working for a “nice” white family that at least didn’t call you nigger to your face. A time when Jim Crow reigned, segregation prevailed, and black teachers, themselves scarcely educated, were forced to use ragged textbooks discarded from white schools. Yet the same year I was born, a season of change began. In 1954 the Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs. Board of Education that black people had the right to equal education. The ruling created hope that life could be better for black folks everywhere.
I have always believe free will is a birth right, part of the universe’s design for us. And I know that every soul yearns to be free. In 1997, while I was preparing to play Sethe in the movie Beloved, I arranged a trip along a portion of the Underground Railroad. I wanted to connect with what it felt like to be a slave wandering through the woods, making my way north to a life beyond slavery – – a life where being free at its most basic level, meant not having a master telling you what to do. But when I was blindfolded, taken into the woods, and left along to contemplate which direction led to the next “safe house,” I understood for the first time that freedom isn’t about not having a master. Freedom is about having a choice. (Sethe says) “I’d wake up in the morning’ and decide for myself what to do with the day,” as if thinking: “Imagine, me decide.” What a gift that is.
What I know for sure is that we all need to cherish that gift – – to revel in it rather than take it for granted. After the hundreds of stories I’ve heard of atrocities around the globe, I know that if you’re a woman born in the United States, you’re one of the luckiest women in the world. Take your good fortune and lift your life to its highest calling. Understand that the right choose your own path is a sacred privilege. Use it. Dwell in the possibility.’