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Reflecting on Civil Rights progress since Dr. King’s era

By Pricilla Gomez

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”  The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered this famous speech in 1963 at the March on Washington.  But even though this speech did not mark total victory in the fight for  Civil Rights, this was considered an important step in the Civil Rights movement, the result of years and years of work.

A number of laws regarding Civil Rights were passed in this era; it is not as though Civil Rights “were achieved” at a specific point. Even though we have a history of working toward racial equality, the reality is that people–particularly men–of color are still oppressed in this country.

Today, African Americans  continue to face discrimination,oppression and even violence because of their race.   Two important and extreme examples of this are what happened recently in Ferguson, Mo. and in New York where white police officers killed black men who were not armed and appeared not to have posed any real threat to the officers.

Eric Garner was killed in Staten Island, New York by police officer Daniel Pantaleo, who had restrained Garner in a headlock because of the suspicion that he was selling loose cigarettes without a tax stamp. Video footage shows that Pantaleo brought down Garner and restrained him in a headlock until he lost consciousness. Garner was declared dead on arrival to the hospital about an hour later.

On July 20, 2014, Pantaleo was stripped of badge and handgun until his case was resolved. Medical examiners declared Garner’s death as homicide, but on Dec. 3, 2014, a grand jury did not indict Pantaleo and sent him back into the police force. Chaotic uprisings ensued nationwide as people protested against police brutality and injustice.

 On  Jan.19 the U.S celebrated  the birthday of  King, even though he was actually born Jan 15, 1929. He is one of the most important Civil Rights leaders worldwide. He was a Baptist minister and a social activist who led the civil rights movement from the mid 1950s to his assassination in 1968.

His birthday was made a federal holiday in honor of everything he did to help achieve racial equality in this country. Senior Jerrica Newkirk  is glad we have this holiday.“I appreciate that he has a day specifically just for him,” Newkirk said.

The King holiday comes shortly before February, which is often recognized as Black History Month.  “ I don’t really like the fact that we have ‘Black History Month’,” Newkirk said, adding that “I really think that black history should be celebrated throughout the whole year.” 

In response to the Brown and Garner cases, students at Encinal High School held a  protest outside their school on Dec.10.  They dressed in black and stood outside with signs saying “Black lives matter.”

EHS  student Santana  Merriweather, a junior, participated in the protest.  “With the strike, we were just trying to find a peaceful yet effective way to show that equality is not being fairly allocated,” Merriweather said.

Junior Ibrahim Balde also participated. “We wanted to show that there are other ways of getting your point across rather than the rioting and looting that has been going on,” Blade said.  “Our silent protest didn’t do damage and it was equally effective,” he said.

Another EHS protester was junior Christopher Leahy.   “My message was that it doesn’t matter what color or race  you are,I’m going to be friends with you and respect  you,” Leahy said.

Protest participants stated  they felt powerful and able to speak with words beyond their years.  “It made me feel important.  It made me feel like this one little strike on this tiny island could actually be a turning point in Corporate America,”  Merriweather said,  adding, “Also, I felt wise. I felt like the student role I usually play was reciprocated and I was the one giving information,while people listened.”

Balde also felt empowered that day.  “Standing up there with my fellow peers I felt powerful… I felt as I was a part of something bigger. Knowing that all these protests are going on nationwide, it felt good to know that I was part of bringing the same message into our Alameda community,” he said.

EHS isn’t the only school that spread awareness  to the Alameda community. On Dec. 18,   Alameda High School held its annual winter assembly. The last act was the Black Student Union (BSU). After students performed traditional African American dances such as stepping, they lifted their hands above their heads and named several deceased African American males. After the names, they shouted in unison “Don’t Shoot!”

Newkirk, President of BSU, said  that their message was to give awareness to African American deaths by police brutality. Ten students participated in the act and each one spoke a name.

“ We listed many people that people didn’t even know about,” Newkirk said.

“I actually think this holiday comes at a great time,” Merriweather said about the MLK holiday. “Hopefully his death can remind us of his era, and how far we’ve come, as well as how much we don’t want to go back down that road.”

“Dr. King’s dream was ultimately to eliminate prejudice  and racism or at least reduce it. That part of his dream I believe is true, and to prove it you don’t see restaurants divided by color,” Merriweather said regarding  King achieving his dream.

“We are very fortunate to live in the Bay Area which is one of the most diverse places in the world. We’re able to get a public education with people from different races, religions and backgrounds. So yes, Dr.King’s dream has been achieved,” Balde said.

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