Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A March Through History

Thanks to Brant, our Triad Organizing Intern, for this piece.

This Monday, February 1st, despite the recent weather and some too-tight snow boots, I had the pleasure of participating in the silent march from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (A&T) to downtown Greensboro to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Greensboro Sit-Ins. These sit-ins took place beginning on February 1st, 1960 at a ‘Whites Only’ lunch counter at a Woolworth’s in downtown Greensboro when four freshman students from A&T ordered coffee at this counter, and refused to leave. Their bravery and determination truly sparked change in the South during this troubled, unjust time, and today they are heroes.

The march started on A&T's campus, at the February One statue, a beautiful monument commemorating the sit-ins and these four students. There were several speeches before the march began, and a large crowd, and small speakers that were unfortunately pointed away from where I stood, so I heard little. When the march began, we were reminded that this was a silent march, to encourage reflection, and at that, we left.

We marched down the same path that the A&T Four took. We marched in rows of eight. We were silent. Nobody spoke, but the sun was shining between days of poor weather, and there was a feeling that had been sparked and that the sun kept warm and alive. A joy. A gratitude, really. It shone above our heads and from downtown, in the horizon, and lead us forward. It rose from the ground, its warmth penetrating the frozen land, carrying us. I felt this as I walked in the same footsteps as these four courageous men, to whom their future was uncertain.

It only took about 25 minutes, and we arrived (with much boisterousness and jubilation, I may add) at Governmental Plaza, just behind the renovated Woolworth's, which is now the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. (Unfortunately, the museum was sold out for the day, since February 1st also marked its grand opening, so I did not have the chance to see the inside.) Here, the people convened and heard the speeches of many members of the community, mostly student leaders from the colleges and universities in the Triad area. First was the President of the A&T's Student Government. His speech was brief, but he encouraged all of us to fight for what we believe in, no matter how it marginalizes us, for this is typically the price of activism. His speech was universal and important, for it was all-inclusive, and we were a large, diverse crowd. Similar speeches were given by the Student Government Presidents and students of other HBCUs, colleges, and universities in North Carolina and the Triad. One student from Greensboro College remarked his mother's insistence that while in high school, his receiving average grades was unacceptable, as his race is not average, but above-average, and does above-average things. This statement was particularly moving, as it really highlighted the activism encouraged by the speakers. Nobody who strives for change can claim they are average, or that their peers are average, or that they are fighting average fights. It is all for great change, and in the name of greatness, to secure great, bright futures for us all.

The student speakers concluded with a spoken word performance that is really beyond description. The words were beautiful, eloquent, and powerful. The voices were strong and conveyed feelings that really shook me. The performance of this writing and the raw energy behind it was truly sensational, and did a great job of summarizing everything I, and the people around me, I am sure, felt during this event. It was very inspirational for someone working towards equality and who looks back at the Civil Rights Movement in awe and with great respect.

As A&T's Student Government President put it, I must "sit in for something." For something about which I am passionate. For something in which I really believe. For something that will guarantee an equal and just future for myself and for my peers. This day not only reminded me of the power of a single person, but of the undeniable strength in unity and solidarity, working towards which I am more certain every day is my life's work.

-Brant Miller

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