[fla-left] [news] One Florida protests helping revive student activism (fwd)

Michael Hoover hoov at freenet.tlh.fl.us
Mon Mar 6 17:52:03 PST 2000

forwarded by Michael Hoover

> Published Saturday, March 4, 2000, in the Miami Herald
> One Florida protests helping revive student activism
> arobinson at herald.com
> After decades of dormancy, a breeze of black student
> activism is stirring on college campuses -- strengthened
> and sharply focused by a series of emotional civil rights
> disputes.
> The evidence includes mass protests, but also subtle
> shifts -- for example, more serious talk and less play
> during February's Black History Month, and a national
> sprinkling of eight new campus NAACP chapters. The
> activity has impressed college professors and elder
> activists, surprised by fresh recruits.
> ``I've been excited about the students,'' said Marvin
> Dawkins, director of the Black Studies program at the
> University of Miami. ``I see a generation that appears to
> be moving away from the `me-ness.' ''
> Black students have assigned themselves a major role in
> the protest sparked by Gov. Jeb Bush's One Florida
> Initiative, which is culminating in a march on
> Tallahassee Tuesday led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
> Almost 2,000 Florida A&M University students marched from
> campus to the Capitol last month in a spontaneous One
> Florida protest. During a One Florida hearing in Tampa,
> students from Hillsborough Community College and the
> University of South Florida attended in droves. And black
> female law students at the University of Florida have
> teamed with the National Organization for Women to spread
> information about One Florida.
> There have been other triggers: concern over a referendum
> campaign brought to Florida by California businessman
> Ward Connerly to end affirmative action; a state
> school-voucher plan; and vacationing students' complaints
> of bias against Daytona Beach and a hotel there.
> ``This generation grew up without having to do active
> struggle,'' said Professor Carole Boyce Davies, director
> of the African/New World studies program at Florida
> International University. ``They feel shocked that some
> things they see as normal are being taken away.''
> That notion of imperiled rights inspired students Lisa
> Dunn and classmate Willie Smith to restart a long-dormant
> NAACP campus chapter at Florida Memorial College in
> northwest Miami-Dade. A chapter also is being organized
> at FIU, and other inquiries have come from Miami-Dade
> Community College and UM.
> Less than 10 years ago, the national NAACP was fighting
> just to survive. A former president had been fired for
> allegedly misusing funds to settle a sexual harassment
> complaint. At the same time, the organization faced a
> $4.9 million deficit, and a power struggle divided board
> members.
> Those old troubles mean little, however, to students like
> Dunn, a 24-year-old freshman psychology major, who says
> American civil rights were not even a part of her
> upbringing, nor a part of her Jamaican parents'
> background.
> Dunn and Smith spend most mornings hitting freshman
> classes at Florida Memorial, passing out literature about
> the NAACP, affirmative action and the One Florida
> Initiative. So far, about 10 students have signed up for
> the new chapter.
> Until recently, students weren't buying it. ``This
> generation hasn't been participating in the political
> process,'' says Shirley Johnson, an educator who works
> with young NAACP members locally. ``During the civil
> rights movement, everything was about action.''
> Then, on Jan. 17, two young black legislators, Sen.
> Kendrick Meek and Rep. Tony Hill, staged an overnight
> sit-in outside Gov. Bush's office. As Johnson put it,
> students ``saw action being done and the reason why. It
> spoke to part of that age group. [Meek and Hill] were
> young, and kids could relate to it.''
> Afterward, hundreds of students called the Miami-Dade and
> Fort Lauderdale branches for membership information.
> ``Young people are finding activism is a thing to do,''
> said former state NAACP President Leon Russell of Tampa.
> AT UM, Dawkins said the unintentional timing of the
> protests in February had a dramatic effect on Black
> History Month observances.
> Celebrations were more issue- and goal-oriented,
> ``reflecting a heightened awareness of the implications
> of affirmative action for their own career mobility.''
> Black law students held a press conference to denounce
> One Florida, and undergraduate students invited state
> Rep. Frederica Wilson to speak about affirmative action.
> ``That became an overriding theme of all the activities
> . . . more substantive issues,'' Dawkins said.
> ``Before, it was fun and games. This year were more panel
> discussions.''
> Previously, he said, some students would say in classes
> they didn't have to be concerned about civil rights
> because ``they felt they would get through on their own
> merits.''
> ``People started seeing a need; they needed to get
> involved,'' said Missy McGee, president of the NAACP
> chapter at FAMU, the state's largest campus chapter with
> 280 students. ``A lot of students who were apathetic
> about state government started to listen up and think
> about what their place could be and how do they fit.''
> David Bositis, senior analyst with the Joint Center for
> Political and Economic Studies in Washington, D.C., said
> dramatic events like marches typically attract newcomers
> to civil rights organizations.
> The trick will be whether this newfound sense of cause
> will be sustained, Bositis said, particularly given the
> prosperity most Americans are enjoying. He pointed to a
> 1997 survey by his organization that showed just 13
> percent of African Americans belonged to social welfare
> organizations like the NAACP, and a ``significantly
> high'' number of those were over 65.
> Another difficulty, Bositis said, comes in carrying a
> civil rights message to new members who have ``no living
> memory'' of pivotal events like the assassination of the
> Rev. Martin Luther King, integration of the armed forces,
> or the Supreme Court case of Brown vs. the Board of
> Education.
> ``Parents will tell their children stories, but it
> doesn't resonate. They think you're talking about the
> dinosaurs.''
> Leaders say the organization has enough on its plate to
> keep new members busy. While the days of legalized racism
> are history, fresh concerns about access to education and
> jobs are on the minds of the younger generation.
> ``What resonates is how they are treated on the job and
> whether they get promotions. Those things are real to
> them,'' said Russell, the state NAACP's past president.
> ``It's a different kind of battle front. Yesterday it was
> to be recognized as human. Today it's to be recognized
> for your ability without someone taking into account your
> color.''
> That's the message Dunn, Florida Memorial's newest NAACP
> believer, preaches to her classmates. She'll take it to
> Tallahassee on Tuesday.
> ``There have been people who paved the way for me to do
> the things I'm now able to do,'' she said. ``We didn't
> grow up in the '60s. This will be our piece of the
> movement.''

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