The Rev. Jesse Jackson, Bennett College President Julianne Malveaux and journalists Ed Gordon and Stephen A. Smith debated leadership and activism Thursday night with other participants of a two-part town hall discussion at North Carolina A&T State University, the first of a series of events in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Greensboro sit-ins.
Jackson spearheaded the first panel with a heated discussion of what drove activism in the past and what is missing in the current generation.
“Youth today don’t appreciate how humiliating segregation was,” Jackson, a 1964 A&T graduate, told the audience of more than 500 people gathered in the Alumni Foundations Events Center. “The students at A&T and Bennett couldn’t use a downtown toilet when I was younger. We couldn’t rent a room at the Holiday Inn. Since that time, things have changed and this generation doesn’t remember that.”
Dr. Harold L. Martin Sr., chancellor of A&T, was a high school student during the sit-ins. “I’m thankful that I came up in a time where the students pushed the envelope,” Martin chimed in. “Young people, don’t take for granted what you have today.”
Malveaux, his counterpart at Bennett, disagreed with her fellow panelists.
“I don’t think the students take it for granted,” she said. “I see young women on Bennett’s campus breaking boundaries everyday. The old heads have to make the history come to life for youth today. Dr. King said when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, ‘I had the audacity to dream.’ What we have to do in our households, in our curriculums, in our day-to-day interactions is re-enforce the notion of audacity.”
Other participants on the first panel included Kim Saunders, CEO and president of Mechanics & Farmers Bank, and Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., president and CEO of the Hip Hop Summit Action Network. Gordon was the moderator of both panels, sponsored by the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, which will open Monday, Feb. 1, the anniversary of the original 1960 sit-in. The museum is located in the F.W. Woolworth building and includes the original stools where the A&T Four sat.
The notion of audacity was continued in the second panel, which focused on leadership. A younger group of panelists consisted of Denyqua Rodriguez, a Bennett student; Gary Brown, an A&T student; Inga Willis, a Howard University graduate and music industry entrepreneur; Zim Ugochukwu, a student representative of Ignite Greensboro; Warren Ballentine, political activist and creator of the “Warren Ballentine Show,” a syndicated radio program; and Stephen A. Smith, FOX sports anchor.
“Everyone is always looking for someone to be a leader,” Ballentine said. “We as a people need to start having ‘geese sense.’ When geese fly, one goose takes the lead out in the front and withstands all the beating from the air that he can stand. When he can’t take anymore, that goose will fall back and another goose will rotate and take his place. What difference does it really make who’s in the lead?”
Leadership continued to be a hot topic among the panelists as they discussed the role that rappers and actors play in the younger generation.
A&T alumna Jazmyne Cosby came out to the town hall to participate in the discussion and other commemoration activities.
“The first panel seemed to be speaking to an older crowd,” Cosby said. “I felt like they were not really grabbing my attention on some of the views that they were talking about. I enjoyed the second panel a lot more, because I could relate to their issues.”
Greensboro native Celesta Dunston, 52, had a more personal reason for attending the town hall.
“The creation of the International Civil Rights museum is an important addition for us in Greensboro,” Dunston said. “I was born in 1957, and I grew up knowing about a lot of things that occurred in the black community that were not fair. We have not overcome, and we have not arrived because everyday people get discriminated against. I still remember this; a lot of young people don’t.”