Tag Archives: civil rights

Selma: A Fresh Take on Civil Rights Education

Eli MacDonald
Staff Writer

A handful of USF students gathered at the Intercultural Center on Thursday to discuss Selma, a historical drama depicting the 1965 marches for voting rights in Alabama. Due the movie’s focus on themes of activism and equality, the Intercultural Center held the event to open a broader dialogue about equality in the media. As each person around the circle introduced themselves, the majority reported having a strong emotional response after watching the film. Femi Da-Silva, a junior at USF, explained, “My grandma was at Selma, and she had this long scar all down her back from where they beat her. When I saw this movie I couldn’t help but bawl.” Continue reading Selma: A Fresh Take on Civil Rights Education

Crowd gathers to commemorate 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington

“Stop the violence, stop the violence, STOP THE VIOLENCE,”  rumbled Clarence B. Jones, personal lawyer and speech writer for Martin Luther King Jr., in his deeply resonating voice Tuesday evening. He spoke in reference to the general struggle for future justice. The evening event was organized to celebrate the major strides our country has made in terms of racial and economic equality since MLK delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech half a century ago, but also to understand the problems that lie ahead.

Citizens from across the Bay Area, including politically distinguished Mayor Edwin Lee and City Administrator Naomi Kelly, gathered to join Jones in commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a day that changed America forever.

Jones has become not only a greatly appreciated historical embodiment, but also a prominent figure of the campus community, serving as USF’s Diversity Scholar Visiting Professor. He teaches the classes, “From Slavery to Obama” and “The Art of Advocacy Speech Writing.”

Led by social activists, the March on Washington was a protest to challenge unemployment and poverty, and to refute the discrimination faced by African Americans. Nearly 250,000 citizens tramped the streets from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, where MLK delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Clarence B. Jones stood directly behind him.

Leading up to Jones’ remarks Tuesday evening, John Trasviña, the new Dean of USF’s School of Law, outlined the progress made in terms of economic opportunity and racial equality in America. He recognized that although many African Americans have risen above the “shackles of poverty” that once confined them, there is still much to accomplish. “Our job today is for the answer in [the near future] to not just be yes we can… but yes we did,” concluded Transviña.

As 82-year-old Clarence B. Jones approached the stage, the audience fell silent in anticipation. He began by singing in his deep, raspy voice, “Oh Freedom Over Me,” a hymn Jones said was signature during the Civil Rights Movement.

Although parts of his speech expressed his deep gratitude for the progress made, he too recognizes that we are far from perfection. “Our nation is awash in guns,” he said. “We can choose to be bystanders, cover our eyes and ears, or become provocative to meet the challenge of nonviolence that Dr. King presents to us.”

Johnny Chibnall, senior politics major, was honored to be in the presence of someone so influential. “[This event] is really indicative of what we do at USF. It’s opening the doors for a lot of different people and making sure that everyone’s voice is heard.”

Jones has a special connection to USF and the Jesuit mission. He remembers Dr. King speaking of a Father Oscar Romero in El Salvador, an “extraordinary man” who wrote and spoke publicly for those that experienced violence during the Salvadorian civil war. Jones says he has traveled all around the country, “but it’s USF that has a monument [dedicated] to Jesuits that were slain in El Salvador,” he stated. “And those monuments at the Lincoln Memorial are a reflection of the soul of USF.”

“We always talk about social justice, and having an event like this – where you hear stories and you see the individuals that impacted them and how it can impact us – really makes that goal and why we’re here more tactile,” said Maddy Meininger, junior politics major.

While numerous speakers indicated their concern for the injustices that still exist, Mayor Lee expressed his hope for the thousands of jobs that have been created exclusively in San Francisco under his leadership. He thinks that public education is at the heart of the city’s dignity, and that no one – regardless of race or class – will be left behind. “Every time we accomplish something good, we say, what’s next? We will not turn back until everyone is taken care of,” said Lee.

Students were unanimously impressed by this historical evening. “It was fulfilling for me to see Clarence B. Jones, someone who was at the forefront of bringing about such change and ultimately impacted so many lives across this nation for the better,” said junior communications major Henry Thompson following the event.

Fifty years after the March on Washington, Jones remains fervent in his fight for justice. He invited the audience to let its voice be heard on the issues of today, because, “If the surviving lions don’t tell the story, the hunters will get all the credit,” said Jones.

Letter: Be Proud of Being “Colorblind”

Regarding anti-racism activist Tim Wise’s appearance before 600 people at USF (Foghorn, March 21, 2013), it’s hard to believe that most of the students in that crowd were not “encouraged” to attend by faculty, either as a class assignment or for extra credit.  Why would white students of their own free will wish to go hear someone berate them for their alleged racial privilege?  I could imagine Wise’s presentation would make students of color feel uncomfortable too.  And how about those students who don’t identify so readily with either category?

In my 24 years of teaching at USF, I have noticed that most students, regardless of race, work hard to do well in school, many hold down jobs at the same time, and a very large number will go into debt in order to finance their educations.  These are traits that students can be proud of in themselves.  Pride, not guilt, offers the healthiest foundation on which to form solid friendships and work relationships, and that goes for relationships across racial lines or within them.

Thanks to the successes of the civil rights movement, we are all lucky enough to be living in a new era – for the past forty years – in which the vicious racial divides of America’s past are no longer powerful.  Among the young in northern California and especially in the Bay Area, racial advantages in themselves are practically nonexistent.  What does divide people are disparities in wealth, which include the residual effects of discrimination on past generations.  But the antidote to that continuing problem is certainly not the cultivation of white racial guilt but a common effort by all to remove the economic and educational impediments to equal opportunity.

The great nineteenth-century African-American activist Frederick Douglass, whose second marriage was with a white woman at a time when interracial marriage was illegal in most states, used to paraphrase in many of his speeches the stirring Biblical words from Acts 17:26: that God had made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the face of the earth.  If Douglass could maintain this wonderful, integrationist vision in the midst of some of the darkest days for African Americans, surely we can do the same when racism is practically dead.

Georgetown Professor Raymond B. Kemp, S.J. ties MLK's "Dream" to DREAM Act

Community organizer, Catholic priest, and Georgetown University professor Rev. Raymond B. Kemp, S.J. spoke about the connection between the civil rights movement and current immigration issues last week at USF.

After an introduction by organizer of the event USF Theology Professor, Mark Miller, Kemp spoke about the ways self-sacrificing love can restore the cumulative process of progress. He made reference to his Anglo roots in Virginia and Maryland—states Kemp said have a background of having had enslaved Africans brought to America through the Middle Passage.

Kemp’s said historical consciousness is key to understanding everything in terms of God and all things real to us. He then proceeded to share some of his activism during the Civil Rights movement in the sixties.

He referenced how he and other organizers defended civil liberties through the use of songs. He also spoke about having attended Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial during the march in Washington on August 28, 1963.

Connecting those events with today’s immigration issues, Kemp said, “Immigration has been the source of our strength in the occasion of some of our greatest failures. In times of economic uncertainty the immigrant gets blamed for the failure of pieces of our economic household.”

Kemp acknowledged California’s progress in passing the California Dream Act. However, the AB131 bill, which would allow undocumented students who receive in-state tuition to apply for state financial aid, is awaiting a trial which would determine whether it will be included in a voter referendum that would overturn the bill.

Referencing a New York Times editorial regarding Alabama’s passing of the anti-immigrant House Bill 56, Kemp said, “Surely no law-enforcement official of [Alabama attorney general’s] stature would have responded to a fact-gathering request by challenging the federal government’s “legal authority” to investigate reports of civil rights abuses. Could there be an attorney general in the South — or anywhere — who is not acutely aware, and mindful, of the Civil Rights Act of 1964?”

Kemp said, “All Americans should feel ashamed.”

He then added, “I don’t think shame is enough! I invite you to work hard, and work smart— give Lady liberty and New York Harbor a reason to keep her torch lit and in the air for at least another 125 years.”

Freshman Amanda Mitchell, who attended the event, said she appreciated hearing about immigration from a priest’s perspective. She said, “It would be beneficial for the youth to get involved because we are the future and these types of forums are a perfect example of how we can participate in our political landscape.”

In a personal interview with the Foghorn after the forum, Kemp said, “Focusing on ethnicity or our ethnic roots, we didn’t want to confront the hostilities of our mental attitudes… it’s rooted in us to have a tendency to be bias towards one another…each individual needs to remember to regain and remain on the right path to social equality. Each day as we wake up we have a choice. Each day brings a new beginning to an end to mental disparity.”