New Pittsburgh Courier

Yesterday’s issues still large part of today’s civil rights battle

TRAYVON MARTIN RALLY IN THE HILL—City of Pittsburgh Police Commander Rashall Brackney and Rev. Glenn Grayson speak to protestors about where the community goes from here. (Courier Photos/J.L. Martello)
FREEDOM CORNER PROTEST FOR TRAYVON—City of Pittsburgh Police Commander Rashall Brackney and Rev. Glenn Grayson speak to protestors blocking traffic in the Hill District about where the community goes from here.                  (Courier Photo/J.L. Martello)

While it is hard for most of today’s Black youth to imagine a time when they could not sit in the front of a Port Authority bus or that they would have to get up and stand so that they could give up their seat to a White person on a crowded bus; or even that they could not use the same bathrooms and water fountains as Whites during a visit to a Pirates game at Forbes Field, it was only a little more than 50 years when Martin Luther King marched on Washington and gave his historic “I Have A Dream” speech, saying, “But 100 years later, the Negro is still not free. One-hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One-hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One-hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.”
IN ACTION—Pittsburgh Director of Public Safety Michael Huss speaks with LaTasha Mayes, Bekezela Mguni and Brandi Fisher during last year’s protest of Pittsburgh’s ‘Most Livable City” title at the Mayor’s Office. (Courier Photo/J.L. Martello)

While Blacks have won some battles for civil rights, for many the war still continues. Especially when there are stories of young Black men getting killed over “Stand Your Ground” laws; or state’s adopting discriminatory plans that set lower academic expectations for minorities because of the color of their skin and their nationality; and the ongoing legal battle over Voter’s Rights and whether one must use certain forms of identification to cast their ballot.

The New Pittsburgh Courier took to social media, along with speaking with several of Pittsburgh’s young Black leaders to get opinions on what today’s civil rights issues are. While there may be new issues being added to list, many believe we are still fighting the same issues as generations before.

“This is not a post racial society simply because our president is a darker hue. At times is seems like we are still fighting the same fight,” said Marisa Bartley, Eastern Regional vice president of the National Urban League Young Professionals. “Last year, at a Delta Days in the capital, Past National President Soror Frankie Freeman read a letter that she wrote in 1963, sadly enough the issues mirrored our current state.”
Like Bartley, La’Tasha Mayes, founder and executive director of New Voices Pittsburgh, agrees that Blacks are struggling with the same issues. She said racism is still the root; it is just manifesting itself in different forms. “We’re facing the same fundamental struggles as 40 years ago, there’s just new strategies and practices; but the root (racism) is all the same.”
According to many of the individuals who responded, like previous generations, the fight for equal education opportunities was at the top of the list, especially with previous reports of achievement gaps between Black and White students that equal a difference of two grade levels.
NO JUSTICE NO PEACE—Rapper Jasiri X delivers a powerful message to the crowd of over 300 at the Federal Building during rally for Jordan Miles and Trayvon Martin. (Courier Photo by Rossano P. Stewart)

“I think primarily, the leading civil rights issue is education. Education is the keystone to ensuring that all students, regardless of race or socio-economic status or background, achieve their dreams,” said K. Chase Patterson, president & CEO of Corporate Diversity Associates and member of the Pittsburgh Unit of the NAACP. “The only way to do that effectively is to ensure that every student has equal access to quality education.”
Along with education, many believe Blacks are still fighting for voting rights, equal wages for women and employment opportunities, along with fighting against racism, discrimination and police brutality.
Rosemary Crawford, said on Facebook, “Police brutality, covert employment, discrimination, disproportionate arrest and punishment, disproportionate representation on juries, unfair credit ratings, abuses in housing, disproportionate educational opportunities. While the desegregation laws of the 1960s made some discrimination illegal, it brought about a false sense of true equality and now many African-Americans are not aware of the importance of voting, and coalition building and support.”

Although there are a number of issues still being fought over the years, many said that the Black on Black violence epidemic and gay rights are new battles being waged, transforming it from civil rights to human rights.
“I honestly feel that back in those days it was about our civil rights,” Pep Farrow commented on Facebook. “But today with the acceptance of gay culture and them relating that to civil rights, (it) opened my eyes that we are dealing with a human rights issue now and even then.”
So what will it take for us to overcome these struggles and gift future generations a world full of equality?
Mayes said, “We have to take what we’ve learned from previous movements and adapt them today. It’s going to take new strategies, new organizing and individuals becoming engaged and connected.”
But behind every movement, is a strong leader. While there have been or still are great national and even local leaders like Tim Stevens, Alma Speed Fox, Nate Smith and Edna McKenzie Rice at the helm of the movement for civil rights, many of today’s young leaders believe it’s now time for the younger generation to step up and move to the front.
“Today’s national leadership is still very much inclusive of leaders of past generations; Rev. Al Sharpton and the National Action Network, and Rev. Jesse Jackson are being strategic about engaging younger leaders in their organizations,” said Bartley. “Succession is critical to moving the needle for civil rights.”
Like Bartley, Patterson said an investment in young leadership is the key to achieving equality in the future. “It’s going to take a change of leadership from a generational perspective. I’m not saying our experienced professionals and civil rights leaders aren’t relevant, but its time for them to invest in succession and the future. Our civil rights leaders, our corporate leaders, our community leaders and our church leaders all need to begin to put the appropriate mechanisms in place for a strong succession plans.” He added, “A succession plan is an insurance policy for an organization and for a movement.”
“Our leaders have to respect young people as individuals and guide them,” said Brandi Fisher, chair of the Alliance for Police Accountability. She also said along with leadership and unity, it takes the Black community educating ourselves and other people; getting back to the basics of love-loving one another; uniting together; and teaching our children how to think and navigate for themselves. “Anyone is able to lead, but not everyone is a leader. I tell my children, ‘Lil’ Wayne may be able to get people to follow him, but that does not make him a leader, someone you should follow.’”
“Across the country we can create our solutions,” said Mayes. “We have to have a vision for ourselves, for our families and for our communities.”