The St. Cloud chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. Its membership spans central Minnesota with support from members who live in the city of St. Joseph and beyond.
The local organization recently held its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Fund Banquet. Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization.
I am happy to say I was among the hundreds in the room who gathered to honor the memory of Dr. King and celebrate the work of the NAACP. The event was also held on the day of President Barack Obama’s inauguration. There was an added layer of excitement because of that fact. Participants cheered each time speakers made reference to the first two-term president of African-American descent.
As a reporter, I have covered the event before and have attended for my personal enjoyment in year’s past.
This year it was different. There were more youth in the crowd talking with professors, senators, doctors and business men and women. I was surprised to see this but I shouldn’t have been. That is how it should be. They are a part of the community and should have a chance to learn about their communities and the organizations that fight for equality within them. The participants included a middle-school student entertaining the crowd by playing the piano (specifically playing “Maple Leaf Rag” by Scott Joplin, an African-American composer and pianist) and a college student performing an original piece of poetry. It was good to see those young people well represented at the event. Their presence was encouraging.
I was also moved by students at the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University who didn’t just accept their school had limited events or any at all that commemorated the legacy of King. This was the first year students led an effort to host a week of events centered on education, social justice and a reflection of history in honor of King.
One of the most telling of the week’s activities was the introduction of a Freedom Wall. Students were not merely asked to sign their names to the wall. They were asked to share what freedom meant to them. To some, it meant being able to love who they want. For others it was about equality for all or being able to always be true to their beliefs.
That wall filled up fast and it wasn’t just students of color signing it. Men and women of all ages and students and staff shared their view of freedom – something that unites us all.
Those are just two examples of students embracing history and in some instances encouraging others to do the same.