GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — The struggle for civil rights in America is not over, and young people must be willing to speak up, U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman told students and staff Tuesday at Stockton University.
“That is our collective responsibility to one another, to hold people responsible for what they do,” the Democrat from the 12th District said during the 12th annual Fannie Lou Hamer Human and Civil Rights Symposium.
The event’s keynote speaker touched on not only racial divisions but economic and social inequities she said are dividing America. She cited Hamer, a civil rights activist who spoke at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, as an example of an ordinary person who did extraordinary things.
Watson Coleman used Hamer’s famous phrase “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired” to say that Hamer had hoped the world would be different by now, but in many ways it is not and many people are still sick and tired.
“The water fountains don’t have signs that say ‘whites only’ anymore,” she said. “But there is still inequity in police departments and jobs.”
The first black woman to represent New Jersey in Congress, Watson Coleman said Congress has not addressed the country’s economic divide and does not even seem willing to step up to the plate.
“Every one of us has a role,” she said, including doing simple things such as voting, and taking more active roles as advocates for social justice.
A panel moderated by professor Donnetrice Allison addressed the Black Lives Matter movement, its genesis and future.
Janice Joseph, a professor of criminal justice at Stockton, said the killing of young black men has become more prominent in the media, but has a long history that is rooted in slavery and a belief that black men are violent and deadly that has been perpetuated through generations. She said the Black Lives Matter movement formed to force action on the issue.
“We need to take political action and put people in power,” she said. She stressed that the movement is not anti-police, but anti-black racism.
Stockton philosophy professor Anne Pomeroy said the “All Lives Matter” response to the movement is really an attempt to erase and negate the reality of the Black Lives Matter movement. She said people may not even realize the impact of white privilege, but it exists and is built on black disenfranchisement.
“If you truly believe that all lives matter, then you should also fight like hell to prove that black lives matter,” she said.
Bishop Dwayne Royster, executive director of POWER, an interfaith movement in Pennsylvania, said his generation was raised to believe the world would be better for his generation, but that has not proven to be true, so it is time to take action.
But what kind of action also matters.
Joseph said she believes violence backfires and feeds into the image of black people as violent. But Pomeroy said that when the police show up in military riot gear, it can set the tone for an event before it even starts.
Stockton student Maurice Brandon, 25, of Atlantic City, a member of the Stockton Student Senate, asked how they can take a stand when getting arrested could get them a criminal record, which would prevent them from getting jobs.
Royster said taking direct action does not have to mean throwing rocks. He said his children attend his events with him, and if they are planned well, they do not have to be violent.
After the program, Brandon said he liked how the speakers addressed the deeper meaning of the Black Lives Matter movement and encouraged people to talk about it.
He said he wants to be more active but said the younger generation needs guidance in how to go about it effectively.
Deanna Jackson, of the Unified Black Students Society, said her generation can inspire change and that Hamer motivates her to keep going.
“Hamer had a greater purpose for all of us,” she said. “We cannot stop moving forward, because she did not give up on us.”