Talladega College band should march for America, says civil rights dean

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Dr. Bernard LaFayette led Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s campaign to fight povery in 1968. He was a 1961 Freedom Rider and one of the leaders of Selma’s voting rights efforts, which led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Dr. LaFayette has taught Kingian nonviolence all over the world. He lives in Atlanta and Tuskegee, Ala.
     Back in the day, when ministers, maids, college students of all races and Jewish sympathizers boycotted buses and staged sit-ins at lunch counters, department stores and movie theaters, they had a plan.
     Part of that plan was disarm their detractors and win over their would be oppressors, says Dr. Bernard LaFayette, who led Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Poor People’s campaign in 1968 and the Selma voting rights movement among other social justice efforts.
     Dr. LaFayette makes a strong argument that the Talladega College band —  which accepted an invitation to march in Friday’s inauguration parade before Donald Trump was elected president — should take part in the parade, rather than boycott it, as some alumni have suggested.

“We have to work on teaching our young people that we have to win people over, said Dr. LaFayette. “If they disagree with what we stand for we don’t alienate ourselves from them, we need to engage them.”

         In a recent interview on “The Tom Joyner Morning Show,”  Talladega College president Dr. Billy C. Hawkins said several individuals and groups had stepped forward to donate money to help the band pay for the trip to Washington, D.C.  Students at the small private college in Talladega, Ala are anxious to show the world their musical talents, Hawkins told Joyner.

Joyner established The Tom Joyner Foundation, a Dallas-based non-profit organization which raises money to send students to historically black colleges and universities.

         According to Fox News, more than $620,000 had been raised for the band. Several donations came in after Hawkins’ appearance on “The O’Reilly Factor.”

When considering a boycott, Dr. LaFayette said the debate should always be, “What can one gain by not going and what do they accomplish if they do go.”

“We need all the support we can get for our black colleges,” he said. “If they are invited, they should accept the invitation and look at it as the presidency rather than the president.”

“You don’t have to agree with the president, but we agree that we need the presidency. It doesn’t mean they agree with everything Trump stands for.

During the protests of the 1950s and 1960s — which led to major legislation such as the Voting Rights Act — “we demonstrated the non-violent approach to dealing with adversaries. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. got on the phone and talked to President John F. Kennedy and went to see President Lyndon B. Johnson. That’s the only approach we can use with Trump.”

The sting of the N-word and a perfect gentleman

The late Pauline Knight Ofosu took part in the Nashville Student Movement and the Freedom Rides in 1960 and 1961.

The late Pauline Knight Ofosu took part in the Nashville Student Movement and the Freedom Rides in 1960 and 1961.

A man goes into a church and shoots nine people while they are studying the word of God. Young black men are being murdered for playing their music too loud or walking home from the store with a pack of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea.

The deaths of Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin, teenagers killed in Florida by white men who weren’t comfortable in their presence, upset me to no end. That could have been my grandson or my teenage nephews. The thought of them being targeted simply because of their skin color makes me very angry.

The Charleston murders have shaken our collective core. How could a 21-year-old man hate people he didn’t know? How could his parents, who had to know he was disturbed, purchase a .45 caliber handgun for him as a birthday present? When will this country get serious about addressing mental illness? When will people of color no longer be the targets of racists?

On Sunday, our pastor spoke about the kind of hate that breeds prejudice and racism. Children aren’t born with hate in their hearts, it is a learned behavior.

While running some errands in Kennesaw, GA after church, I attempted to turn into a shopping center but held up traffic for a few seconds because I was in the wrong lane.  The kid behind me, who looked to be in his late teens or early 20s, was furious.   “You f…ing nigger!” he yelled while pulling around me.

Being addressed in that way stung me, but it wasn’t about to ruin my day. My Dad has cancer and my thoughts are on him and the rest of my family.

My first encounter with the “n-word” was much more traumatic because I didn’t understand what the word meant. I did know by the way my 5-year-old classmates said it that it wasn’t a term of endearment!  Me and another black girl were the only people of color at this catholic school in Winchester, KY. Shortly thereafter, my parents moved our family to Lexington, where the schools were integrated and there were never any problems of that sort.

One of the scariest times I was called a nigger was in the parking lot of a Stein Mart in Lexington. I was in my late 20s and must have been walking too slowly across the parking lot while crossing in front of a man in a big truck.  “Nigger bitch,” he proclaimed loudly. We were 20 feet away from each other and I was terrified. In this instance, and the one earlier this week, I was happy the men didn’t have guns because they may have shot me.  All because they were angry and I happened to be the wrong skin color.

Let that marinade for a minute. How ridiculous to hate someone you don’t know simply because they appear different from you.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. looked forward to the day when his children would be judged by their character, rather than their skin color.

I have to ask, are we there yet?

And speaking of character, the day after my encounter with that misguided young thug in Kennesaw, I had an encounter with an elderly white man. I left my jacket on the back of my chair in a restaurant and he bolted out into the parking lot to give it to me.

“You left your jacket,” he said, holding it up for me to put my arms in it. “I just didn’t want you to miss it later.”

It was a great reminder that there are good and bad people in every race. Let’s all start by being kinder to one another.

Words matter — especially one with the history of the n-word.  But we can choose to give it power or we can elect to take away its power by ignoring it.

A few years ago, I interviewed the late Pauline Knight Ofosu, a 1961 Freedom Rider who took part in the Nashville Student Movement a year earlier. She and other protestors were trained in the way of Muhatma Ghandi.

While protesting outside a movie theater, a white man spit in her face. Her reaction was to ask him for a hankie to wipe his spit off her.  He was completely disarmed – – so much so that he walked away without saying another word.

Now how’s that for taking away his power?

Pauline Knight in 1961. She and other Freedom Riders were arrested in Jackson, Mississippi for “breach of the peace.” pauline