Pass the Torch
Editor’s Note: Jessica McQuaig is a junior at Northern High School in Durham and MDC’s YO: Durham intern.
When Dr. Howard Fuller spoke recently at the MDC Lecture marking the 50th anniversary of the North Carolina Fund, I heard a challenge.
Fuller was a top organizer in Durham, N.C., for the Fund, which was a series of innovative programs and projects in education, health, job training, housing, and community development. Its goal was to lessen poverty and further the cause of civil rights, and one of the ways it worked was by creating teams of African-American and white college students who worked together to show that communities could be stronger if their members reached across lines of race and class to solve problems of poverty.
“It was all about building relationships; it was all about getting people to see that they could speak for themselves,” Fuller said.
Dr. Fuller said that when he was selected to organize in Durham’s Hayti neighborhood, the federal government said programs should include the “maxim feasible involvement of the poor.” So he started knocking on doors and distributing information about community meetings. To show the community that their surroundings could change, Dr. Fuller’s first project was to organize a massive neighborhood clean-up to score a small victory that had obvious impact.
Addressing how young people today should take on social justice issues, he said: “You’ve got to determine what issues you’re going to go after, and you have to be relentless.”
I heard Dr. Fuller challenge young people to navigate these issues, and we can. I believe that young people try every day to help improve the community through volunteering, community service, service learning, and participating in youth programs. We are changing Durham little by little. Like Dr. Fuller’s “small victories,” we are showing the community that we can make a difference by helping feed the homeless, clean the streets, provide books to libraries, and donate computers to local schools. These young people are not in an either/or, they're not just talking about “pull your pants up.”
After Dr. Fuller’s presentation, the lecture transitioned to a panel discussion on race, class, and how young people today navigate the issues of justice as Dr. Fuller once did. During the discussion, I liked how the atmosphere was still a comfortable one as the topic of race and class was being discussed among white and African-American people.
"The oppression of people of color is the manifestation of an economic arrangement that was put in place to identify white and assign advantage to that,” said Deena Hayes of the Racial Equity Institute. “The oppression of people of color was just a consequence of that. If all we do is focus on the oppression of people of color, we keep racism invisible. When we make whiteness and privilege and access invisible, then racism thrives,” she said.
I had never heard racism described like this. I usually thought of it as a general concept of oppression of colored people, but as Hayes pointed out, this notion of racism is what keeps it invisible. It is a new outlook on the concept that doesn’t just merely hint at the truth, but is the truth.
“They're saying there's a system in this country built on white supremacy, but we're also saying to you, 'You have the power to change,’” said Micah Gilmer of Frontline Solutions.
We, as young people, do have the power to change. We have the power to change ourselves, our community, and our surroundings by unifying and organizing ourselves to have a voice.