There are times when “good trouble” is a necessary evil.

COVID-19 is still on the rise. Nearly 250,000 Georgia residents have tested positive and nearly 5,000 have died. There is no wonder why the student at Paulding High School made her decision to send the unbelievable photo revealing the crowded hallway scene at her school. School officials had promised the parents that their children were going to be safe. The situation did not look safe to her, and it should not have appeared safe for anyone involved.

When questioned about the reason for her act, Ms. Watters did not whine about what was going to happen to her because of her decision. She said that there are times when one must choose to get in good trouble to bring about a change in the behavior of others or to see changes in laws or rules that seem to be unjust. She said that when an individual sees something wrong, he or she should say something or do something about the wrong. She realized that she was breaking the school rule by using the cellphone without the consent of an official at the school.

She knew that she was going to be punished and was willing to accept the five-day suspension that was handed down to her, but was later changed. Her parents did not attempt to intervene because she was not wailing about the unjust treatment that she received. Evidently Hannah Watters had made the decision to get into “good trouble,” just as John Lewis had made many times.

Mr. Lewis was a bit older than she when he put his life on the line to create a better society for marginalized people of color. He decided that it was all or nothing. Rep. John Lewis was jailed 45 times. Even though his mother had told him when he was leaving home not to get into trouble, Lewis had to separate good honorable trouble from evil trouble.

Lewis was arrested 40 times during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, according to records from his office. He had been arrested five times as a member of Congress — twice at Washington’s South African embassy to protest apartheid, twice outside the embassy of Sudan to protest genocide in Darfur and again at the immigration rally in Atlanta. Good trouble led to real consequences for the civil rights agitator.

Watters and Lewis were serving the same purpose as the agitators in washing machines. Clothes will not come clean without the agitator in the machine. The moral arc of the universe will not bend toward justice until enough people decide to help bend it by, if necessary, getting into good trouble.

Without people like John Lewis and Hannah Watters the crookedness in society will go unchecked and evil and wrong will roam freely all over the land, destroying everything in their path.

The student was opening windows for others who did not have the courage to step out of their comfortable school zone of operation. After she sent those pictures there were others waiting with pictures in hand, hoping to find a way to share them with the world. The group waiting was so very large that some officials announced that everyone who had pictures or information that needed to be shared could call a hotline number and never be called out or detected. Pictures from across the nation were sent in.

This was no surprise to most of us, knowing how happy the students were to get back to the school buildings and feel the spirit of school once again. To be able to hear the voices of classmates and teachers and to listen to the announcements coming over the intercom was like sweet music to their ears. Telling them to social distance was like telling the wind to stop blowing. Telling them to wear a mask when they felt as if during the semi-lockdown they had already been wearing masks.

It is so hard to learn to not touch when it has become first nature for us all. How does one unlearn to greet his or her BFF with a hug? How does one learn to not hug their children and grandchildren when they live only two hours apart and have not seen each other for months?

Here’s the thing. We Americans are all realizing that we are spoiled in many ways. It has caused us to take our freedom for granted. Many other countries were shut down absolutely. Those of us in this country never shut down as a whole. We had never been attacked by something so vicious.

Many are still trying to figure out if they want to give COVID-19 the respect it demands. I cannot figure out why we feel as if we are an exception. But we must realize that COVID-19 jumps on the lowest hanging fruit, and the lowest hanging fruit are those with a weak immune system because of other ailments ravaging the body. The French government shut down the French for 78 days. The only time they could go out was one or two hours a week for groceries or medication. In this country, we have been playing around with COVID-19 and daring it to attack us or our loved ones.

If you see something wrong, say something or do something. More of us need to get in good trouble.

Willie Mae Samuel is a playwright and a director in Rome. She is the founder and director of the African American Connection of the Performing Arts Inc. and a 2020 Heart of the Community Award of Honor recipient.

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