The greatest heroes are those who stand up for what's right, knowing full well that doing so will likely bring them misery. To persons such as these, principles are more important than personal pain. That's why Dr. King went to Memphis in April of 1968. It's why Jesus waited for his betrayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. And it's why Regina Kelly, a young, Black single mom from the projects, stood up to the tyrannical District Attorney whose racist tactics had railroaded impoverished Blacks into prison for years.
Even though she faced the possibility of an unimaginably long prison sentence, Regina Kelly refused to accept a plea bargain after she was wrongfully accused of selling drugs back in 2000. Choosing to fight the case seemed hopeless enough, but Kelly went further and agreed to join the ACLU in a lawsuit against the DA. That led to harassment, threats, lost jobs and attempts to put her four children into group homes. But Kelly persevered for one simple reason: she was innocent.
"There's no way possible I could've been able to live with myself taking a charge that I know in my heart and my soul that I did not do," she says. "It was really just setting an example for my girls and also learning from my mom. She always taught me right is right and wrong is wrong. So, why would you plea to something that you know you didn't do?"
Regina Kelly's heroism is dramatized in "American Violet," a stirring (though at times predictable) independent film written by Bill Haney, directed by Tim Disney and anchored by the brilliant acting of Hollywood newcomer Nicole Beharie.
When I met Regina Kelly at an "American Violet" press day, I was stunned by how ordinary she is. She's neither over-burdened nor egotistical about the central role she has played in challenging a powerful, racially-biased system. She was almost matter-of-fact as she described the death threats and other retribution she's faced over the years. Her strength and courage are evident, but muted by her humility. Toward the end of our round-table interview, Kelly told me: "I'm not, honestly, trying to be a hero. I just feel I'm doing what's right for my children." And that's precisely why she is a hero.
"American Violet" is in select theaters nationwide and it's certainly worth your dollar. Thanks for listening. I'm Cameron Turner and that's my two cents.
Think! It ain't illegal ... yet!