Change can occur by a domino effect. Oftentimes, the history books don’t mention that historical figures who initially cause change were average everyday people. It’s crucial to remember that one person can inspire one hundred.
For author Dr. Yohuru Williams, he believes that the domino effect is as important today as it was in the 50s and 60s. Williams, author of “Rethinking the Black Movement” led an inspiring talk on Wednesday, April 13 at Fairfield. The dining hall in the Dolan School of Business was filled with an audience of students, faculty and citizens of the Fairfield community.
“I think that sometimes what we do is that we think of people in history as being so far away or so diverse from our own experience and we turn them into characters or superheroes when in fact they have the same struggles as we do,” said Williams. Williams expressed to the audience that in many ways, the book recalls historical civil rights movements of the 50s and compares them to our current events.
Williams not only mentioned well-known figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., but also figures in popular culture such as Jackie Robinson and Stevie Wonder. His purpose in mentioning these figures was to show the audience that racial injustice surrounded the entire country and not only a portion of it.
“Many books today, in abundance, talk about how the problems in the 1950s and 1960s were confined to the south,” said Williams. “Then we are shocked to see events like Ferguson Missouri, Baltimore, Maryland or even Bridgeport, Connecticut take place. The fact of the matter is that these were always national issues.”
Williams discussed how iconic figures like Robinson were discriminated against from an economic standpoint in Stamford, Connecticut. During the 1950s, Robinson’s family was unable to buy a home, despite his fame.
Williams recalled the moment in Robinson’s life and expressed that even though it happened many years ago, the same type of injustice occurs today. When tying together the events in history with the recent events of today, Williams expressed to the audience that he believes the black man today is seen as threatening.
“What most people don’t realize is that black people live in perpetual fear that they’re going to be at the wrong place at the wrong time and someone is going to pull out a gun and shoot them because they happen to be walking their dog at eleven o’clock at night.”
During his talk, Williams brought to the attention of the audience some of the laws that are allowed in our system that show no improvement from the time of the civil rights movements. Williams noted that for many years black Americans were forced to endure the fear of public places, especially after a certain time of night. Currently in North Carolina, kids in the town of Greensboro have a 10 p.m. curfew. Punishment for being out in the streets after the curfew is prison for 30 days.
In Flint, Mich., there is a law enforced that prevents you from sagging your pants. ”We know what community wears their pants in the sag. What’s the penalty for the sag? It’s a $250 fine and punishable by jail time for sixty days. Can’t you just say, ‘Pull your pants up,’” said Williams.
Williams asked the audience, “How much are we spending to incarcerate people? What’s the human cost of that?”
Freshman Sydney Williams, who attended the event, found Williams to be informative.
“I like how he said that we need to assess our history before we can move on because we do try to reinvent the wheel in a sense,” said Williams. “Our generation likes to think that we are creating something new, but if we just look back and study the people that have helped pave the way for us, we could accomplish a lot more.”
The decision to act in the present not only reflected those who fought for civil rights in the 50s and 60s, but also for those today.