By Mitchell Friedman
I don’t think there could be a more perfect time than now to be learning about the Civil Rights Movement in History class. When Rosa Parks, an African American woman, refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white male (as was the law) in Montgomery, Alabama, the Civil Rights Movement was propelled forward. Along with Rosa Parks, kids were angered with the Jim Crow South. Soon after this, youth from all over the South stepped into this movement in a significant way. Throughout the entirety of the Civil Rights Movement teens were side-by-side with their adult counterparts in their efforts to order to achieve racial equality.
One of the most well known student groups that formed was The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which engaged both African American and white teens in the fight for equal rights. In Greensboro, North Carolina and Nashville, Tennessee, SNCC organized sit-ins in which African American students would sit at “white only” counters at restaurants. The students who participated in these sit-ins were extremely brave as they endured harassment and often physical harm from whites who were angry that they were sitting in these spaces.. These acts of civil disobedience led to many African American students to be arrested. Following these arrests another group of African Americans took the seats and the process continued until every African American student was arrested.
In the deep south SNCC was also involved in organizing the Freedom Rides. African American and white students worked together to desegregate interstate transportation (busses). To take these actions further, African Americans would use white only bathrooms, lunch counters, and waiting rooms while taking stops along the Freedom Rides. None of this was done without risk. On one occasion (after the Freedom Riders had gained a great deal of attention on national media) a mob bombed their bus and brutally attacked many of the African American students on board. Nevertheless, SNCC continued their trek from Washington DC all the way to New Orleans, with most riders being arrested for using white only facilities along the way.
The lessons learned from the Civil Rights Movement still affect us today, and has impacted me in a significant way. A little more than a month ago the 11th and 12th graders from Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, New Jersey traveled to Atlanta, Georgia to learn more about the Civil Rights Movement. While there we visited Ebenezer Baptist Church (the church where Martin Luther King Jr. preached), The Temple (which was bombed during the late 1950s as a direct result of Rabbi Rothschild’s support of the Civil Rights Movement), and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. In this museum there was an interactive exhibit where I sat at a counter and put headphones on which simulated what it felt like to sit at the counters the African Americans sat at during the 50’s and 60’s. What I heard was horrific: slurs were being yelled at me, there were sounds of bottles being broken, and men ready to attack could all be heard through the headphones. Anger and panic spread through my body. This experience gave me great insight into how terrifying it was for African Americans living in a segregated country and the risk they took in participated in those sit-ins.
While I only shared a few of the contributions made by teens during the Civil Rights movement, teens truly became instrumental in this movement. During the March on Washington, John Lewis (SNCC member, now a Representative of the state of Georgia) spoke before Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous, “I have a Dream” speech. Teens played a huge role in creating change in our country and today, nothing has changed.
The current movement that has captured national attention is around the issue of gun violence. This movement has gained so much momentum because teens are getting involved. Teens are walking out of their schools (which high schoolers did in Birmingham in 1963), calling their Members of Congress and Senators, and most importantly becoming passionate and involved in something that could make our society a safer place for future generations.
For those who don’t know, a very close friend of mine, Casey Sherman, attends Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The school shooting definitely hit closer to home for me and really made me come to the realization that it is time to take action on the issue of gun violence.
I am assisting with the organization of a school walkout on March 14th at my school. I was tasked with with the social media aspect of promoting the walkout for our school. I’m also going to Washington DC to attend the March for Our Lives to show my support for gun violence prevention.
There are so many ways in which you can get involved . First, if you’re school isn’t already organizing a walkout next Wednesday, create a Facebook Event for the Walkout and talk to your school’s administration about making the walkout possible. Remember, schools can’t infringe upon your 1st Amendment Rights! Another way to act is by attending one of the March for Our Lives marches. While the one in Washington D.C. is the main march, there are so many satellite marches nearby that you can attend. Nearby marches include: New York City, Philadelphia, Newark, Union, Maplewood, Princeton, Asbury Park, Red Bank, Morristown, and New City.
What about after the marches and walkouts have ended? The answer is simple, there’s always more to do! Make your elected representatives hear you! A Member of Congress can feel overwhelmed when they receive 10-20 handwritten letters. It is so easy to make your representative hear your opinion and possibly change their mind in order to support your cause. One more way to get involved is to register to vote. If you want to see change, make sure you register to vote so you’re prepared to make an educated decision! As teens we have such strong voices that can often be heard in ways that adults are not. Now is the best time to capitalize on your voice!
Any questions on how you can take further action in your community, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
From Anger To Action!
A Training for Youth Organizing Against Gun Violence
March 11th, 2-4 PM
40 S. Fullerton Ave. Montclair, NJ (First Congregational Church)
Learn how to plan a successful action like a walkout on 3/14 or “March for our Lives” on 3/24. Learn how to build power and plan actions that make things change! Learn how to prepare for the press!