Civil Rights Activist Headlines Program for Memorial Dedication Series
About 200 people packed into the lobby of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in downtown D.C. to hear Rev. C.T. Vivian speak about “how we made it over,” the program’s theme.
“It was always a marvel that we made it at all,” said Vivian, co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and civil rights activist.
“We refused to die, used whatever resources we had,” he told the audience of all ages and backgrounds. “We did whatever we had to do to thrive and survive.”
The event was a part of a series of programs related to the dedication of the King memorial on the National Mall. The dedication ceremony was originally scheduled for Aug. 28, but was rescheduled to Oct. 16 because of the weather caused by Hurricane Irene.
Before Vivian spoke, saxophonist Ginger Cornwell performed “My Help Comes From the Lord.” She shared a story of being a little girl in the car with her parents and driving past several bathrooms that said “white only” before they found one she could use. The God’s Miracle Gospel Quartet moved the audience with well-performed pieces, including “How We Made It Over.”
U.S. Rep. Robert C. Scott, D-Va., who also preceded Vivian, addressed the audience about Congress’ role in the continued struggle for racial and social equality, including health care and education reform.
“Our leaders have led us well, but it is time to pick up that baton; we need to continue that fight for justice,” Scott said.
Vivian also spoke about education, calling it the way through to the dream. He said that every successful struggle makes a new struggle necessary; the new struggle is rooted in the educational disparities between white and black students.
He shared statistics that 40 percent to 60 percent of black students drop out of high school and that only 4 percent of those who remain in high school meet the ACT benchmarks of being prepared for college.
Vivian then told a story about how his grandmother motivated him to stay in school and do well. “Who’s going to be Grandma for this generation?” he asked. “It’s about making sure they know something. … We are in charge of them. Whatever happens to them is because we allowed it to happen to them.”
The statistics are high, he said, because black children are taught to avoid mathematics and science. “The great joy of living is overcoming the difficult,” he said. Without the education in those subjects, black students are not prepared for today’s science age.
“It’s all there for us if we want it,” he said. “The issue is not money; it’s culture.”