The Battle for Civil Rights Continues in America

I grew up in China where racism has never been a social issue due to the lack of racial diversity, so learning what really happened here in America is not just eye opening; it changes how I see this country in a lot of ways.

Marietta College, Ohio.  “Americans can get very uncomfortable talking about certain issues and civil rights are definitely one of them.” That’s what my friend Jessie told the group while we were reflecting over the trip. And I definitely agree.

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I was very lucky to be able to go to this year’s Alternative Spring Break sponsored by Marietta College. We drove all the way down to Atlanta, Georgia; Selma/Birmingham, Alabama; Memphis/Nashville, Tennessee; and finally back up to Cincinnati, Ohio.

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Not only did we go to all major museums there and learn about what happened over the course of the Civil Rights Movement, we also spent an entire day doing community service at Birmingham, Alabama. I can talk about this forever but I would love to just bring your attention to some points that strike me the most.

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Everything that happened which we see as “history” today was actually not that long ago. In reality yesterday is history. The moment I learned doctor King’s granddaughter is still alive, I was shocked. And when we were told that the last lynching in Alabama occurred in 1981, it just blew our minds.

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Everyone has been lauding America for its freedom, democracy and equal opportunity ever since the country was created, and who can ever associate this so called “greatest country in the world” with something as brutal as lynching happening just three decades ago?

Stop for gas at N.C.

Everything we’ve learned about the Civil Rights Movement in textbooks seems to be so far away from us that it almost gives us the illusion which is the battle is over. But the truth is: they are all recent and we are still struggling.

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We memorize heroes forever but it takes thousands of ordinary people to make history. Heroes can do nothing without everyday people like you and me. It was surprising for everyone to learn that doctor King wasn’t the one who initiated or organized the march that happened in Selma. He was just invited by people there who had already made up their minds and put everything in place to make the protest happen.

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His effect was huge and unforgettable, but to make something happen, we need both everyday people and someone who is in a position of power. It should be strategic. What’s also worth noticing is that a lot of ordinary people who were part of all the protests were college students. Their initiative, determination and audacity added so much power and inspiration to the entire movement and made the final victory come much faster.

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Inequality is sprawling and the battle against slavery is far from over yet. There is a section in the National Underground Railroad Museum in Cincinnati which shows audience modern slavery and how more and more people are suffering from it, especially young people in developing countries. It doesn’t just talk about how bad the situation is but focuses on the economic explanations behind modern slavery to help us understand why this is happening and why it happens in this way instead of that way.

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People talk about social issues all the time, but only very few of us are able to do something real because we don’t really know what the problem is in the first place. Understanding or not is what differentiates good people from great people. Good people have sympathy but great people have both sympathy and the knowledge needed to make things better. And we definitely need more great people.

I grew up in China where racism has never been a social issue due to the lack of racial diversity, so learning what really happened here in America is not just eye opening; it changes how I see this country in a lot of ways.

Advocacy is something we need in order to see more and more positive changes happen, not just in America, but everywhere. Giving people access to history is crucial too, because that’s where lessons can be found and the future can be made.

Gardening2-1The author Yi Yang doing community work.

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Yi Yang
Yi "Frank" Yang was an exchange student from Beijing, China who stiudied at Marietta College, Ohio. Majoring in Public Administration, Yi shows a very strong concern about social justice and has been trying to make a difference. He volunteered in Vietnam last year, and is currently involved in LGBTQ Alliance and leading Global Connections at Marietta College. He has also got a lot of opportunities to travel for Model United Nations and Forensics both in China and the U.S.

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