The politics of student and youth activism . . . finally

Practical Politics

David L. Horne, PH.D. | 11/21/2013, midnight

In February 1960, four students, after a few days of planning and discussing the issue, took a mighty risk. They sat down at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., and asked for service. They knew the law would not protect their rights to do just that, and that there was a significant chance that all, or some of them, would be seriously hurt by the White occupants already at the lunch counter that day.

Still, they took the risk. They had decided to take a stand for equality and justice in spite of the danger. Refused service, as expected, they stayed until the store closed. The next day, 20 more students came, and the day after that, 60 more students. Within a week, more than 300 students had joined the sit-in, and it had spread to the nearby Kress store, which had the same Jim Crow policy. Shortly thereafter, the Woolworth’s chain changed its segregationist policies.

A few weeks later, the most significant Black student group in American history, the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), was born at nearby Shaw University. And the sit-in movement, including wade-ins, stand-ins, march-ins etc. became commonplace all over the South as students and youth challenged the segregationist status quo of that part of the country.

A few years later, students and youth chained office doors and took temporary custody of administrative facilities at hundreds of colleges and universities all over the U.S.A., as Black Studies departments and programs were created as a result of youthful demands. Some students got suspended for their efforts, some went to jail and prison, but, again, they still took the risk in order to force a change in the status quo. They were responding to Frederick Douglass’ admonition that,” power concedes nothing without a demand—it never did, and it never will.”

Some 50 years later, it has been a very rare occasion for such student/youth activism to have made an appearance. One had to wonder, what happened? Did we overcome and nobody told me?

Well, last Saturday afternoon, at one of our local colleges, the Reparations United Front held its annual Reparations Report Town Hall. At that gathering, a group of students representing the Organization of Africana Students (OAS) from California State University Dominguez Hills, stepped up and presented an idea which may spark, finally, another youth movement. Their idea was to use digital media to ask all Black folk in the U.S.A. for a moratorium on the use of the N-word and the B-word during Black History Month 2014. They were not asking people to denounce the words or get into long debates about the evilness or the non-vileness of the words. The request is to simply stop using the words for that time period, and to quietly intervene when you hear others using it. Use brother or sister, or mister and miss instead, if not the person’s real name. That worked well a few short years ago, and it can work now, too. The OAS—led by two young women, Te (Tiearea) Robinson and Myia Williams—reported that the usage of the terms were epidemic within their generation, and the damage being done to people’s self-concept and sense of well-being was getting to near irreversible levels. Something must be done and now.