I TOOK MY family to see "Selma," the Golden Globe-nominated film that portrays the bloody battle for the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
I took them, not because of the film's historical lessons or cinematic splendor. I did so because my children must see their story on screens large enough to hold it. They must hear their truth from voices other than mine.
I knew what I was witnessing from the film's first scene. A group of children descend the steps of 16th Street Baptist Church, the church the Ku Klux Klan bombed in 1963, killing four girls and galvanizing the civil-rights movement.
I'd been to that very church, while visiting a friend in Birmingham, Ala. I'd cried as I placed my hand against the plaque that paid homage to Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley - the four girls who died there.
Still, watching the dramatization of their last moments was difficult. Four girls between 11 and 14 - very close to the ages of my own children. Four girls attending church, just as my family did Sunday morning. Four girls whose talk of hairdos and heroines was heartbreakingly innocent.
As the images flashed across the screen, I peeked at my son and daughter. Then I hunkered down in my seat, as if to brace myself. But when the bomb exploded on screen, my body jerked involuntarily, as much from the knowledge of what it portrayed as from its suddenness.
That scene stood out for me, because it reminded me that children gave their lives for the movement. It reminded me as a father how important it is to love our children, for however long we have them.
There were other scenes that moved me, as well. The chillingly familiar sight of a white policeman shooting an unarmed black demonstrator named Jimmie Lee Jackson made me wonder how far we've come. Because, despite all that happened in Selma 50 years ago, that scene keeps repeating itself.
It echoes in the deaths of men like Akai Gurley, who was killed by a policeman in a darkened Brooklyn stairwell, and Ezell Ford, shot in the back at close range by a Los Angeles police officer.
In each case, the victims were black, and the police officers were white. Even half a century after Selma, black men are 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by police than their white counterparts.
But, despite that stark reality, there is much that is different since people marched for the right to vote in Selma.
John Lewis, who marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was elected to Congress, while Andrew Young served not only as mayor of Atlanta but also as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Barack Obama, the nation's first black president, was elected and re-elected.
There has been backlash, however. Last June, the Supreme Court gutted the heart of the Voting Rights Act by a 5-4 margin, freeing nine mostly southern states to change their election laws without advance federal approval. Texas immediately implemented a voter-ID law that had been blocked because of concerns it was discriminatory.
And now the fight for voting rights falls to our children. To win, they must know the importance of the vote.
When I asked my children what they thought of "Selma," they said they liked the story. When I explained that the real-life struggles of our forebears is the reason I push them to succeed, they said they understood.
Later, as my son helped me take out the trash, he confided that he was surprised by some of the film's foul language.
"That's real life," I said. "I thought the message about voting was important enough for you to see all that."