Locally, a passionate call for equality


Participants hold hands Saturday morning during a prayer vigil at the celebration in downtown Gainesville to commemorate the 1963 “March on Washington.”

Matt Stamey/Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 at 3:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 at 3:59 p.m.

The Gainesville celebration of the 50th anniversary of the "March On Washington" may have been relatively small in numbers, but it was mighty in passion and started a resolve here to work to ensure freedom, justice and economic equality for all.

The nearly 75 people who attended Saturday's celebration at Gainesville City Hall heard powerful speakers who addressed local issues, including education, immigration, the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on voting rights, affirmative action, justice and the Trayvon Martin case, school-to-prison pipeline, economic injustice and civil rights.

Michael Bowie, past president and current member of the Executive Board of the Alachua County branch NAACP and master of ceremonies of the program, peppered the celebration between speakers by singing verses from such songs as "Troubles of the World" and "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around."

In his welcome, Jamal Sowell, first vice president of the county NAACP, encouraged participants to get fired up. "The fight has to go on," Sowell said. "We can't stop fighting for freedom and jobs. It's a fight for all of us."

The Rev. Kevin Thorpe, pastor of Faith Church, delivered the invocation. During the vigil, prayers were offered by the Rev. Dr. Marie Herring, senior pastor of Dayspring Baptist Church, and the Rev. Dr. Willie Caison, pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church.

The highlight of the celebration came when local civil rights activists read segments of the "I Have a Dream" speech while college-age adults read a contemporary version of the same speech and focused on goals that 50 years later have yet to be realized.

Dekendrick Murray, president of the University of Florida Black Student Union, spoke about justice and the Trayvon Martin case, zero-tolerance policies and racially determined standards resulting in persons of color receiving a second-class education.

"We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, covered in a hoody to protect ourselves from the rains, are seen as a weapon, justifying the use of deadly force upon us, undermining and effectively removing our right to defend ourselves to stand our ground," said Murray. "We can never be satisfied as long as there are Trayvon Martins."

Kenneth Nunn, professor at the UF Levin School of Law, spoke about affirmative action and voting rights. "We have not made it to the promised land," he said, adding that it's important to fight for affirmative action so that people of all "colors of the rainbow" can have an education.

He said the recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a kiss of death for the long struggle for affirmative action. Nunn was referring to a ruling by six justices to demand the U.S. Court of Appeals of the 5th Circuit reconsider by applying "strict scrutiny" to Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, in which Abigail Fisher, a white woman, rejected for admission by the university, said that her rights had been violated by the university's consideration of race and ethnicity in admissions decisions. Nunn said the court's ruling may result in less students of colors attending colleges and universities.

"Look at the UF and see how many people of color you see (in classrooms)" Nunn said. "We have a hill to climb in terms of affirmative action."

Brandon Johnson, president of the local NAACP Youth Council, called for residents to get rid of their egos. "We're asking America to be true to the foundation that all men are created equal," Johnson said. "It's time for us to wake up and climb the mountain. Today is a new day, a new fight. Let's continue to fight on."

Dr. Paul Ortiz, director of the UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, spoke about immigration and civil rights. "Look for the enemies of immigrants and there you will find the enemies of the Voting Rights Act," Ortiz said.

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