The NBC Learn Town Hall series "Finishing the Dream" continues in Detroit, Michigan where panelists discuss how the challenges that the civil rights movement brought to those in the past can serve as examples of leadership and inspiration to young people in the present.
How Can Students Be Inspired To Work Towards Civil Rights?
CARMEN HARLAN, Moderator:
I’m here at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn and the bus I just stepped off is the very bus that Rosa Parks boarded in Montgomery Alabama back in 1955. She was simply trying to go home from her job as a seamstress. Her refusal to give up her seat to a white man on this very bus is what sparked a new quest for freedom and equality for African Americans. Some say that struggle continues even today. In a moment we’ll discuss six topics starting each with a short historical piece. We’ll open it up to a panel of community leaders for discussion and take questions from the audience. So let’s get things started. An overview of the civil rights movement, highlighting the key events.
ANCHORMAN: [IN CLIP] Emmett Till is buried near Chicago, his hometown. While Emmett was visiting a great uncle in the Mississippi Delta in August 1955, he whistled at a white woman. That whistle cost him his life.
MAMIE MOBLEY, EMMETT TILL’S MOTHER: [IN CLIP] I hope that his death will certainly start a movement in the United States.
CHET HUNTLEY, NBC NEWS: [IN CLIP] Most Negroes in Montgomery, Alabama, are boycotting the city buses because a woman who refused to take a segregated seat was fined in police court.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: [IN CLIP] I said, “I’m sorry, our management does not allow us to serve niggers in here.”
FRANK MCGEE, NBC NEWS: [IN CLIP] A multitude of Negroes and whites moved on Washington today in what is easily the most massive demonstration ever seen in the capital or in the nation.
FRED HAMPTON: [IN CLIP] If you dare to struggle, you dare to win, if you dare not to struggle, then you don’t deserve to win…you don’t deserve to win. We’re saying that you’ve got to get out here and got to involve yourself in the struggle.
MALCOLM X: [IN CLIP] Be a man. Earn what you need for your own family. Then your family respects you. They’re proud to say, “that’s my father.”
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: [IN CLIP] I have no moral conflict. I want to live in my own as anybody in this building, and sometimes I begin to doubt that I’m going to make it through. ‘Cause I don’t march because I like it. I march because I must, and because I’m a man, and because I’m a child of God.
HARLAN: That certainly brought back a-- a lot memories. Let’s meet our panelists I’m going to start to my right-- immediate right, Carol Goss is the President and CEO of The Skillman Foundation as well as a native Detroiter. Good evening and thank you for being with us. Kary Moss is a civil rights attorney and has been the executive director of the ACLU of Michigan since 1998, welcome. Senior Pastor Robert Smith of New Bethel Baptist Church of Detroit, welcome thank you for joining us. Shirley Stancato is the President and CEO of New Detroit, a non-profit group formed after the 1967 riots to deal with racial issues, welcome. Hassan Jaber is the Executive Director of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services or ACCESS. He’s also taught Arabic language and culture at the University of Michigan Dearborn, welcome. And Doctor Daniel Krichbaum, director of Michigan’s Department of Civil Rights. Before that he was Governor Granholm's Chief Operating Officer. And this is our panel tonight welcome all of you. All right, our question for all of you is how do we put this part of our history into prospective for our youth today so that they don’t mired in the emotions of the past and can be inspired to finish the dream. Carol Goss lets start with you.
CAROL GOSS, PRESIDENT AND CEO, SKILLMAN FOUNDATION: Well, thank you very much Carmen for allowing me to be apart of this panel. That was a very moving video that we just looked at. It brought back a lot of memories for me. I grew-up in Detroit here in the 50’s and 60’s. And I think about the challenges of that time period in what it certainly meant for us as young people and all that we fought for and all that earned caused us to be successful in the way that we are today. And young people who perhaps weren’t a part of those challenges can learn from those experiences. And I think young people should look back on what the-- the those leaders of the time went through, what they accomplished and say ‘we can do those things too.’
HARLAN: Kary, do you agree?
KARY MOSS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR ACLU MICHIGAN: Yeah absolutely, you know, somebody once said that those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it and while so much was accomplished through so many hard won sacrifices and painful--painful battles. We’re not done yet and, you know, Doctor King’s life ended much too soon and he foresaw that much of the battles in the future, our struggle for equality, was going to play itself out around economic inequality. And you know, for the ACLU we really take that seriously and try to look at the ways in which economic equality affects different races and different communities. And that’s where we need your young people to put their energy and their passion.
HARLAN: Pastor Smith, I know you-- you came here today with a group of students and you hear their concerns, their voices. Do they know their history, do they know this history?
REVEREND ROBERT SMITH, PASTOR NEW BETHEL BAPTIST CHURCH: I’m afraid that not enough of our stories are told by the right people. The answers in the clip we just saw and heard, it said that Emmett Till whistled at a white woman. Others tell the story he was accused of whistling at a white woman. And so, it’s who’s telling the story, because certainly if I’m telling the story I’m saying that Emmett Till was a slow person as I’d been told, that he did not whistle, he made his normal noise or sound to signal his cousins and it was said by others that he whistled. The other thing that moved me in the piece was seeing Doctor King-- the first time I saw my father cry because men used to didn’t show emotion. It always troubled my father that I was the one who would show emotion. But he actually believed that we could have that world where you could be judged not by the color of your skin but by the content of your character. He believed that, most did not believe that.
HARLAN: And certainly those tears are not gone unnoticed and I can tell even from the-- from the audience here. Shirley Stancato, New Detroit. How do you inspire the young people that you see here today to finish the dream?
SHIRLEY STANCATO, PRESIDENT & CEO NEW DETROIT, INC.: The Civil Rights Movement really could not have occurred if it was not for young people. Young people in college and high school, they were the ones that really started the movement and continued the movement and sat at the lunch counters and they were the ones that were being, you know, the dogs were jumping on etcetera. And so, young people have a place, a very important and significant place in making change. Change has never really occurred unless young people were a part of it. So, look at the history, study it for yourself and then figure out what place you can have in making a difference and making a change.
HARLAN: Hassan Jaber, just your thoughts watching that overview of the civil rights movement.
HASSAN JABER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ACCESS: Let me say regarding the emotion, we need to be emotional. Young people need to be emotional about this issue. This is not a marginal issue, this is a real issue. It continues to be a real issue for all of us.
HARLAN: Doctor Krichbaum, let’s hear from you.
DR. DANIEL KRICHBAUM, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF CIVIL RIGHTS: Well it’s important to know our history, but um, I think Shirley says it very well, during the Civil Rights Movement of the sixties and the seventies, young people were very much a part of it. So it’s important to know what’s going on right now.
KRICHBAUM: I mean frankly, I was horrified with what happened last week regarding East Point. I consider what happened in East Point a hate crime where some people try to terrify; I think it was twelve African-American families that live in East Point.
HARLAN: To get them to move out of the neighborhood--
HARLAN: --and they sent them threatening letters--
KRICHBAUM: That is a hate message. So I think that bringing the history to us now and seeing the parallels is-- is really important.
HARLAN: We got students from all over the metro area tonight, and we’re going hear from one of them now. Can you step up to the mic, tell us who you are. And what’s your question tonight?
MIKE LEVIS: Hello, my name is Mike Levis from New Bethel Baptist Church. When I look at the panel members, when I look at Pastors Smith Jr. showing his emotion, when I look at Mister Jaber emphasizing on the emotion of the civil rights movement, and when we look at our young people, we see that they have become desensitized to the current crimes in today’s society. Why is that and how do we deal with our young people being sensitized?
HARLAN: What a question. Who wants to-- who wants to tackle that one first? You go ahead.
KRICHBAUM: I see us living in such a materialistic culture and I think the media is a big part of it, not the news media--
HARLAN: I’m just the moderator tonight. That’s another discussion.
KRICHBAUM: The media is a big part of it. And, you know young people are a target of this materialism trying to get them to focus on what they want, what they need, what it takes to get that. And so, it’s not all young people I understand that.
HARLAN: But when you see it on television constantly does that create a-- a-- you know numbness or a barrier so that you don’t react emotionally, do you think?
SMITH: I’ll show you how numbed we are. Ronald Reagan started the mean, selfishness, the stupidity that we live with today when he asked the question ‘are you better off now?’ And that became all of our questions. Because it has never been the Christian question, the Christian question has always been to do for others and make the world a better place as the salt of the earth and the light of the world
HARLAN: Okay, well, you know-- well, you guys look like you’ve got a whole lot to say. We got a whole lot of territory to cover. Pastor Smith, I’ll talk to you later.
DUNDEE, Mississippi — Wearing aqua-colored T-shirts and hydration backpacks, a group of teenagers on Saturday launched a 50-mile walk from northern Mississippi to Memphis, Tennessee, a tribute to slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. on the 50th anniversary of his assassination.
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