BenU Addresses Civil Rights

by Tim Ziman

Photo credit: Raneen Zubi

Photo credit: Raneen Zubi

The College of Liberal Arts and The Center For Civil Leadership hosted the Civil Rights event. It was a two-day symposium dedicated to commemorating the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, as well as a colloquium for new ideas on how to keep the ‘fight’ alive.

Day one included a lunch with keynote speaker, Mayor John Marks III of Tallahassee, Florida, who spoke briefly about his background growing up during the Civil Rights Era, to his rise in politics, becoming the only African American Mayor to hold two terms as Mayor in Florida. The launch keynote speech was an excellent way to get the events of the day rolling.

The next event was a panel discussion on Civil Rights featuring Civil Rights “Matriarch” Dr. Rushing, Mayor Marks and Reverend Willis Johnson, who each began with a short narrative on Civil Rights, followed by a question and answer session.

Dr. Rushing made a comment on the differences between the elite idea of democracy and participation, radical participation and passive participation when it came addressing the issue of Civil Rights, whereas Mayor Marks was more focused on this idea that “had we only known”, which seemed to resonate with all of the audience. He also pointed out that the issue of racism was a social and cultural issue and not one that is an easy fix.

When it came to questions about voting rights he agreed that the issue is one that is being addressed in Florida. However when it came to questions about the double standard of the law he pointed out that the law was not the issue, the issue was those who practice the law.

The last event of the day was a speech delivered by Revered Willis Johnson. This was the livelier of the events. To begin the event, Professor Harding (Center for Civil Leadership) introduced Congressman Bill Foster who outlined his family’s involvement with Civil Rights, including his father who was directly involved in the some of the content of the bill itself. Congressman Foster (D) went on to explain the importance of the bill and the importance of July 2nd 1964. He then introduced Major J. Marks III (D)

He explained that the bill “was the seminal piece of legislation that defined America” and it was our job as Americans to “continue the legacy”.

Mayor Marks then went on to introduce Reverend Willis Johnson, the keynote speaker.
Reverend Johnson made it clear that “he was here to challenge us” to make a stand, which did not mean we should head down to Ferguson and join the protest, but to be active in our own communities. He was by far the most vibrant of the speakers of the day, using his preaching style to rile up the large audience of students, faculty and members of the public.
He made his point clear when it came to Civil Rights.

“We still find a community that needs to be fixed. “We need to dare to care about things other than ourselves,” said Reverend Johnson.

His main point was to “affirm the other,” to get involved and engage in our communities.
The event overall was an n-depth diverse and highly lively affair, ending with the most vibrant of speakers the University has had so far, whose message of “dare to care” and “to affirm the other” really spoke to the students, faculty and staff in attendance.