I don’t take it lightly growing up in Atlanta which is coined as the home of the Civil Rights Movement. A movement centered on nonviolence demonstrations to eradicate racial prejudices and acts of hatred toward citizens of color. One Civil Rights Activist, W.E.B DuBois, who taught at the University Center (AUC) in the 1930s would also say to his students, “Our freedom is sought through education!”
Living in the heart of the AUC and having neighbors who were students of Professor DuBois, I became no stranger to the passion and call to social activism. In the early 90’s there were a series of initiatives in public schools. For me, the reading initiative in the form of a storytelling series was the best one. I loved reading, and I quickly learned when dignitaries come to schools, they always take photos reading to children. When leaders such as Coretta Scott King, Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery, Rep. John Lewis, Rev. Dr. Ralph David Abernathy, and others would come to elementary schools in Atlanta, of course out of their enjoyment too, they would read and share stories with us.
I was in elementary school when I first met Rev. Dr. C.T. Vivian. Rev. Vivian as well as Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery, were big supporters of the reading initiatives. After reading, there would be questions from students. Rev. Vivian would say, “Ah, I see we have a young preacher here!” if you were well spoken. Their impact through storytelling has impacted my life and career. In fact, many years after graduating from APS, I became a teacher within the district. I was able to help implement assembly programs and reading initiatives at my community schools where our then living legends came back to share their stories, experiences, and of course, read.
1996 was a monumental year for the City of Atlanta. We all watched as Muhammad Ali carried the Olympic torch. It was also monumental for me as a middle school student. Ambassador Andrew Young came to our middle school, named after his wife Jean Childs Young, and talked about the importance of “Carrying the Torch.”
In my notes, what stands out to me to this day is this statement he made. “You can’t successfully carry a torch if you don’t know it’s weight!” Now as a teenager, my mind went right to the point of making sure that if I carry a torch, don’t get a big one. But in hindsight, I realized over time that carrying a torch and knowing it’s weight truly means to understand and know the value of what you’re carrying.
Carrying the torch for civil rights has been something leaders, teachers, and community organizers in Atlanta have been preparing us to do. It was an intricate part of my schooling, upbringing, and community. Several of my classmates and community leaders, now in their professional careers, are positively impacting our communities.
One organization in particular led by a fellow community leader, Kacey Venning , HEY Atlanta, is helping reach our Atlanta youth convinced by systemic racism and poverty. In my opinion, this is our call to civil rights during this time, ensuring our youth aren’t falling into the same pitfalls that our legends advocated to eradicate. There are others of us who are also on the frontlines of activism for many of the injustices facing our communities. We’ve taken what we’ve learned from Rep. John Lewis, Joseph Lowery, Hosea Williams, Rev. C.T. Vivian and many others, and we are advocating for affordable housing, better educational outcomes, crime prevention, ending police brutality and even helping find a solution for our Black and brown youth on corners selling water for survival.
As an educator, I utilize the experiences and memories of having been in rooms with several Civil Rights legends to connect the youth of this generation to the work. I’m reminded of Hosea Williams and what he would press upon us during community projects. “We need the young people in the front because they will be the ones leading the way soon!” I have confidence that our Civil Rights legends will rest peacefully knowing that the torch has been passed, and we’re ready, willing, and able to carry it onward.
The original article can be viewed here for the Atlanta History Centers tribute to civil rights leaders Lowery, Vivian and Lewis.
Jason has worked in education for over 15 years as a teacher, blogger and community advocate. He speaks and writes primarily about the need to improve education for Black boys, particularly increasing the number of Black male educators in schools. In addition to blogging here at EdLanta, Jason is also a featured writer at Education Post.