(pictured above: Head Coach Anita Howard (front row, second from right) and Salem faculty members pose with the Salem College basketball team at the Benton Convention Center Monday.
Twenty-year-old Whitney Campbell is too young to remember the Civil Rights Movement, but the Salem College junior is wise enough to know that the struggle is far from being over.
“I think we’re definitely still fighting some of those battles,” said the Charlotte native. “I think racism within the public school system on different levels, as well as class division, is a huge thing in public education.”
In honor of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and in support of continuing the fight for equality in Winston-Salem and across the nation, Campbell and a handful of fellow members of Salem’s BADU (Black Americans Demonstrating Unity) organization led a symbolic march from the women’s college campus to the MC Benton Convention Center Monday.
“This is not a holiday just for black Americans,” noted Campbell, vice president of BADU and a communications major. “This is a holiday for the whole world to remember how far we’ve come.”
The march, which is in its second year, attracted more than 50 Salem students and faculty members to the Annual MLK Noon Hour Commemoration at the convention center. The turnout was more than double that of the school’s inaugural attempt in 2013, in large part because of the participation of the Spirits basketball team helmed by Head Coach Anita Howard. Howard, who is well known on campus for her community mindedness, said she felt it was important for the predominantly African American team to support the effort “just to be a little more humbled and appreciative of the fact that we came this far.
“Rather than just sitting around in the dorm, I wanted them to take this little short trip just kind of to be a part of the festivities,” said Howard, the 2013 GSAC Coach of the Year. “This is actually our practice time and we decided to do this so the girls can feel a part of the holiday … These students are from all over the world. To be able to bring them together for this is awesome.”
Professor Krishauna Hines-Gaither, who conceived of the event in 2013, said she was hopeful that participating in the march and hearing from the speakers who addressed attendees on campus prior to their departure would help the students feel more connected to the movement.
Sophomore Kenysha Clear said participating in the march and Noon Hour Commemoration last year was eye opening for her. The BADU member and aspiring OB/GYN said she was hopeful that her fellow students would find it just as empowering this year.
“We can go back and think about the struggles and everything that we had to go through to get this far,” said the Providence, RI native, who added that studying slavery in history class has made recognizing the holiday even more poignant for her. “I see how much we’ve had to go through to be looked at as actual human beings, so I think it’s definitely a (cause for) celebration.”
The Salem students and staff joined the hundreds in attendance at the 35-year-old Noon Hour Commemoration, the city’s longest running commemoration of King’s life and legacy.
“We are overjoyed that you are here,” Organizer Mütter Evans told the audience at the outset of the more than two hourlong program. “…We will share some useful information that will help you understand what’s going on in this country and motivate you to be the positive difference maker of one. Together, we can make a difference like we have in the past.”
Themed “Keep Moving Forward” the celebration featured video taped comments from famed poet Dr. Maya Angelou and Rev. Dr. William Barber II, president of the state NAACP conference. Former US Rep. Mel Watt and County Commissioner Walter Marshall were honored with MLK “Dare to Make a Difference” awards.
Marshall, who dedicated his award to his wife and son, Paulette and Malcolm Marshall, took the opportunity to remind attendees that if they don’t like the direction of politics in North Carolina, they should make their voices heard at the polls.
“They can suppress it all they want, but they can’t stop us from voting,” Marshall declared. “…We’ve got the power to control our own political destiny.”
Watt, who was recently sworn in as head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, was unable to attend, but his district manager, Torre Jessup, spoke on his behalf, expounding upon Watt’s more than two decade-long service to the people of North Carolina’s District 12.
In his keynote remarks, US Rep. G.K. Butterfield, who represents NC’s 1st District, railed against Gov. Pat McCrory’s decision not to hold a special election to find Watt’s replacement.
“I know it may not be politically correct, but I cannot come to the 12th District without again making the case for an expedited special election,” he declared. “…I call again on Gov. McCrory to revise and revisit this schedule for the special election. It can be done.”
Butterfield, a native of Wilson, educated attendees about the history of the struggle for equality in the United States, dating back to the days of slavery, and the unique role Winston-Salem has played in it.
“This is an historic community, and while I don’t know all of your history, I do know that this town is nothing short of remarkable,” he said, noting that the Twin City was home to the late Kenneth R. Williams, a former alderman and the first African American to be elected to public office in the state after Reconstruction. Butterfield’s father, G.K. Butterfield Sr., was the fourth.“This is an historic community and you should know that.”
Butterfield spoke about King’s relatively short, albeit revolutionary tenure at the helm of American civil rights, and the countless events leading up to and through the height of the movement. Butterfield was just 16 when he attended the March on Washington with his father and witnessed King delivering his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, which Butterfield said “mesmerized the world and made a compelling case for civil rights.”
King’s dream has yet to be fully realized, he contends.
“We must now answer the question, ‘Have we reached the Promised Land that Dr. King spoke of?’ and the answer is no,” he declared, noting that nearly one sixth of the nation’s population – and a disproportionate number of African Americans – live in poverty. “…Income disparity is the moral issue of the 21st Century, and that’s what Dr. Martin Luther King’s life and work was about,” Butterfield intoned. “…Stay engaged, because we still have work to do.”