Realizing the dream

The Peoples Weekly World 35th Annual African American History Month celebrations in Connecticut last weekend had overflow crowds in Hartford and New Haven including many young people. The events featured local panels, music and a tribute to W.E.B. Du Bois.

Panelists addressed questions around the theme, “Building the Momentum for Change. Realizing the Dream for Jobs – Peace – Equality.” They were asked to reflect on next steps to achieve equality and how to keep the unity growing that elected Obama.

In New Haven, the inspiring music of Brian Jarawa Gray and Friends had people swaying to the beat of the drums. Young people of every ethnic background were in attendance to see and hear history in the making.

Awards were presented to winners of the second annual People’s Weekly World high school arts competition around the theme “Dear President Obama, My dream is….” The students, from various area high schools, came with their families, accepted their prizes and shared their work.

New Haven panelist Clifton Graves, a long time civil rights activist, emphasized to the audience “you are not going to agree with everything Obama does, but it is up to us to keep the momentum going for change. This is one of the best opportunities that Americans have had in decades. “

Graves spoke especially to the youth in attendance about earlier civil rights struggles which enabled Obama’s election, quoting Frederick Doublass that “power concedes nothing without a demand, it never has and it never will.” The fight for affirmative action is not over, he said.

Ashaki Binta, a union organizer with UE, thinks a good way to keep the ball rolling is to re-establish some of the coalitions that have faded in recent years. She warned about the dangers of the right-wing which continue even as the country is moving in a more progressive direction

It was emphasized that while the election reflects growing unity, vigilance against racism, which has always been a divider in our country, is necessary. Cited was the recent NewYork Post racist caricature of Obama making fun if the stimulus package. The point was made that we are all human beings trying to achieve the same goals, a better life for ourselves and family, and in order for us to reach our dream everyone must be united and work together.

Andrew Greene, high school student and member of New Growth Praise Center, wasn’t shy about speaking his mind. He was very motivated when he went to Philadelphia to door knock for Obama in the summer. He believes this will help some young people turn their lives around so they will know there is hope for them. He encourages his fellow high school students to stay focused and get a good education.

Craig Gauthier, a former union leader who moderated the discussion, concluded by saying that “our tasks and responsibilities have been laid before us. We must take up the banner for equality, justice and organize to take action in these hard economic times.”

In Hartford, panelists also stressed unity and grass roots organizing to achieve the goals of jobs, peace and equality.

Coalition of Black Trade Unionists president Kathleen Jackson recalled being spat on at school where she was the only Black student. She helped organize a bus to the Inauguration just to be present as Barack Obama was sworn into office.

Jackson lauded youth panelist Kedar Fluker for his activism and emphasized that the most important thing is to encourage young people who will shape our future. Fluker called on young people to get involved and participate in opposing looming budget cuts in Connecticut and stand up for better opportunities.

Brian Steinberg reflected on the change in thinking that has taken place in the South since his experience in the 1960’s during Freedom Summer in Mississippi when three civil rights activists were slain. He said Obama’s election represents an expansion of democracy in our country, won by the unity of the people, which must continue on.

The events raised nearly $2,000 for the People’s Weekly World fund drive.