Recently, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery march. It was in 1965 that men and women, Black and White, and of all ages made this historic walk to protest racial intolerance.
Men like John Lewis and Hosea Williams will be in our history books forever as they were among hundreds who made that eventful walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
Now that the anniversary is behind us and the speeches have been made, what have we learned from this significant event in our nation’s history?
First and foremost, I believe that people genuinely care deeply about this country despite its continued racial divide. The majority of Americans want to eradicate racism and sexism. We know that the Selma March and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 will forever be linked together. However, we see restrictions are now being placed on our ability to vote in some states.
It grieves me that any state would try to limit our right as citizens to vote. But we see it unfolding right in front of our eyes. If there is ever a time to contact our state and national legislators, it is now.
Many young people were there marching and I can only hope they marched with a purpose. The pomp and the circumstance without the commitment and the compassion are hollow. One of the recent Selma marchers, Margaret Howard, told USA TODAY, “There’s been great progress but it feels like as a country we’re 10 years behind where we should be at this point.”
The racial climate in America continues to be a stumbling block that derails any progress that we make. Just when we think a modicum of victory has been won, something happens. It seems as if “something happening” has been an ongoing refrain for much too long now.
Earlier this month, a racist video depicting members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at The University of Oklahoma came to light, which was offensive to African-Americans and quite honestly to any citizen regardless of ethnicity. While Black folks were the targets, we are all targets because we are our brother’s and sister’s keeper.
The president of the University of Oklahoma has denounced the video, closed the fraternity house and taken strong disciplinary actions against the students. Now, of course, the students in question fear for their lives as they have received death threats. Their parents are worried and are fearful of reprisal.
As a parent and a grandparent, I understand their concerns and don’t wish any harm upon their children. However, what concerns me is what went on around their dinner table when their children were young. Did the parents tell their children to be respectful of all people and cultures? If they did, the lessons did not stick.
With all that is happening in this country that is racially motivated, you simply cannot say ‘I didn’t know’ or offer an apology and think your transgression will simply go away. It won’t.
You give up the perception that you are a good citizen when you engage in this vile and mean-spirited behavior. When you think about it, too many of these acts are happening on college campuses. Cross burnings, racist graffiti and video productions all send the wrong message about this country.
We cannot be the melting pot of ideas and be the cesspool of hatred. It didn’t work 50 years ago at Selma and it won’t work now in 2015.
College campuses are supposed to be the training ground for the next generation of leaders. How many other individuals and groups on campuses have the same message of racism and sexism but just haven’t been caught?
The march for equality and justice is headed in the right direction, so we must march on. Yet we must also know that evil marches and sings, too.
Stomp on and stomp out evil and incivility. March for what is right, fair and just.
The future of our country depends upon it.
Dr. James Ewers is the president emeritus of The Teen Mentoring Committee in Ohio. He served as a vice president and admissions director at several colleges and universities before retiring in 2012. A motivational speaker and workshop leader, he is the author of Perspectives From Where I Sit: Essays on Education, Parenting and Teen Issues.