Life altering to attend the 50th Anniversary of the March On Washington
By Willowstine “Willo” Lawson
I did not even cry during the March, there was no time for blurred vision; what was clear to me, “we have the power to get things done.”
Last week I took the bus trip to the March On Washington’s 50th Anniversary event. I had decided to join the bus group to be amongst foot soldiers, modern day civil rights activists and youth leaders. It was a life altering and memorable trip and afforded me an opportunity of a lifetime to witness distinguished and passionate people coming together, smiling and marching for a cause. Of course I took pictures and along the way I e-mailed photos to my family and friends.
“It was a really great and informative event and I learned a lot of things there that I otherwise wouldn’t know.” A quote from Matthew Carswell, ninth grader at Turner Tech in Miami; Carswell was one of several youth who rode the bus sponsored by the NAACP Miami-Dade Branch.
The National Action Network and Martin L. King III were the conveners and the NAACP and many other organizations served as co-sponsors.
Attorney Veronica Harrell-James and I connected during the nearly 36-hour journey. On the bus we watched several historical documentaries, sang songs from the civil rights movement, as well as, she and I shared stories of our college days while attending predominantly white state universities and how much we personally have benefited from the movement. Yet, as little children we had visited our grandparents in rural America and saw firsthand the prejudices that were inflicted on our people. Harrell-James said, “even now, we must march forward and work together to ensure that Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream, as pronounced during the 1963 March on Washington, is fully realized for all.”
For 10th grader, Tara Powell, one of the youth who accompanied us on the trip, it was awesome! Tara has already prepared a scrap book to preserve her fondest memories of the March On Washington, 50 years later.
Chris Kirchner wrote, “as soon as we arrived in DC we were joined by thousands. Our bus was parked between folk from Pennsylvania and from Cleveland. I met my national colleagues with the American Federation of Teachers/AFT and we solicited signatures on a petition to protect funding for public schools. Hundreds of teachers stopped to take pictures with my sign declaring “PUBLIC SCHOOLS DELIVER DREAMS!” Rev. Bernice King had the crowd holding hands. Trayvon Martin’s mother granted us collective ownership of her son. When Randi Weingarten, president of the teacher’s union, brought a 12-year-old onto the stage, and announced him as the youngest speaker, I felt a lump in my throat. Saturday was an emotional day full of gratitude for the elders who have fought and defined the struggle, and full of passion to inspire each of us to continue the work for social justice and equality in our communities.” Ms. Kirchner and I both taught at Miami Jackson Senior High School in the early 1990’s.
I contacted several others since we returned home, wanting to know what did they think of the March. Harold Young, a public administrator said, he wanted to “feel” a connection to the 63’ March; he got a little bit of it, but not enough. Mr. Young pointed out that the way the 50th Anniversary was organized, not enough information was disseminated. Young was also disappointed in the lack of young entertainers to attract more young people. Harold said, “During the original march, Harry Belafonte, Paul Newman and others who were young back then were involved.”
While in DC I ran into Wanda Dorsey-Jenkins who is from Miami and currently lives in Washington, DC. We hugged and kept smiling, thinking of all the thousands of people who attended the March and that we actually would see each other. Wanda said, “I thought it was nothing short of “amazing” to see so many people from every walk of life; but what was inspiring for me was to see the other people, not black or African American who were there. That was inspiring to get a sense of them wanting to be a part.”
A stalwart and dedicated NAACP life member Patricia Daniels, also a retired educator, rode on the bus. Mrs. Daniels shared, “to me, the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington redefined the “dream” for African Americans. It also reignited the flames of prosperity, freedom, and the miles we must go before we sleep. I believe it was a call to action for our nation, as the work of the 1963 March is not yet finished!”
Andrea Pelt-Thornton watched on cable television and caught a glimpse of her college roommate and longtime friend, Steph Harden Wright. So I e-mailed Steph and asked her, what did you like and dislike? And she responded, “Thousands and thousands of my people united for a much needed cause does my heart proud. Now what? People want to know what’s next. With so many organizations being represented there, it was overwhelming! Too many speakers, not enough time to speak and for the ones that had something to say, they were cut off. That seemed to be the consensus of the people where we were seated.” Steph attended the March with her daughters, one a college student and the other a teenager, they live in Tampa.
So my take away—”keep doing all that I am doing and a little more. Keep focused on a few goals and ask others to support viable causes.”
Finally, getting around in Washington, DC was quick, safe, easy and cheap. One thing is for sure, South Florida needs better transit and the extension of the Metro Rail in Miami-Dade County. That, we know will create jobs!
Willowstine Lawson is a silver life member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People/NAACP. She was born and raised in Miami, still lives in Miami and works in Fort Lauderdale. She passionately mentors youth and college students.