Woman behind 'An Ordinary Hero' inspires students across the state

Published: Saturday, Sept. 14 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

"I was not terrified," Joan said. "I might have been cautious; I might have been super-aware of my surroundings. But if you give way to fear, if you let fear move you, you destroy your ability to do what you need to do in the situation. The worst thing they could do was kill you, and we believed there was something better to come."

Joan remained an active supporter of the civil rights movement until the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964.

When she is in her hometown of Washington, D.C., Joan visits Arlington National Cemetery and the grave of fellow civil rights activist Medgar Evers, who was the first field officer of the NAACP. She also makes other occasional visits — like when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008.

Joan explained in the film that the Ku Klux Klan had a list of the people most dangerous to the civil rights cause. Once a dangerous person was killed, their face was crossed out, she said.

"Medgar's face was X-ed out, but mine never was," Joan said in the documentary.

While this film has inspired countless viewers, perhaps no one has been more affected by its story than Joan's son, who wrote and directed the film.

"It's pretty cool when your mom has a mug shot," Loki said. "She was on the Klan's most wanted list. She was dangerous. That's cool."

But it's the example that Joan set that has left the greatest impression on Loki.

"I have two daughters. The example of this woman — a young lady who chose to follow her heart and not take the route of Miley Cyrus — we need those examples."

In the end, both mother and son agree, it's all about making a stand — no matter who you are.

"Most importantly, (this film) shows that ordinary people can do something. That you don't need a civil rights movement to make things happen, you just need the courage of your conviction," Loki told the Deseret News after the screening. "You just need to say, 'It's going to be me. I'm going to do something. That's where it starts.'"

Joan said it's important to understand that real people can make a difference — not just icons like Dr. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks.

"Now us old folks are getting a little weak in the knees and maybe in the brain, so it's time for you young folks to step forward and carry it on," Joan told the students in attendance at the panel.

The final comment of the panel was from a mother and her young daughter. The mother thanked Joan for her courage and her example.

In response, Joan looked at the girl.

"Now you've got to go out and make a difference in the world. OK? Promise?"

She promised.

Emmilie Buchanan-Whitlock is an intern for the Deseret News with Mormon Times. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho. Contact her by email: ebuchanan@deseretnews.com or on Twitter: emmiliewhitlock

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