Lecture stresses power through unification

Ben Glick

Your voice matters! That was the theme of the NAACP College and Youth Division’s Strange Fruit Series, which focused on cultural and political organizing.

“We’ve learned a lot over the past weeks,” said Dionna Cheatham, service advocacy chair of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Grand Valley State University branch. “A lot about the cultural and political history of the U.S.”

GVSU concluded a week’s long sequence of lectures, the Strange Fruit Series, designed to help motivate and educate members over political organizing. The final lecture took place Nov. 7 and stressed the importance of young people in making a difference.

“I just think the lecture series has been great,” said Jazmin McMullen, vice president of the NAACP GVSU branch. “We’ve learned a lot of things that have motivated us and challenged our thinking. We have all the information we need; we just need to know what to do with it.”

Paula Triplett, a former GVSU instructor, spoke at length about the youth movements of the 1950s and ’60s. Triplett said she hoped to get all the facets of the community to work in unison with each other to encourage young people to organize efforts of their own.

“It was young people who made the change before,” Triplett said. “(Young) people are so important: your contribution, your voice. What you have to offer is so important. I hope from what you get tonight you can start organizing into communities that are important to you.”

This set the precedent of the rest of the lecture, where former protestors, labor organizers, and activists shared their life experiences with the youth group of the NAACP.

In attendance also was Terry Hoogerhyde, a representative of the General Teamsters Union No. 406 who spoke about organized labor’s role in shaping the modern political environment and how his experience in organizing can help the NAACP members.

“Tonight we have faith-based groups, labor-based groups, and community groups. Why? Because whether you know it or not, the things we all do affects everybody else, even the people in this room,” Hoogerhyde said.

Jim Winslow, who helped labor activist and civil rights leader Cesar Chavez, offered wisdom to the youth of the meeting.

“You have to find the common interest that all people have,” Winslow said. “Once you have that, then everything else follows.”

He said “everything else” includes attainable goals and recognition of reaching the goal.

“I’ve seen too many groups who have accomplished a goal of theirs and then didn’t know what to do afterward,” said Michael Johnston, a former high school teacher who also worked for Cesar Chavez. “You have to know when you’ve accomplished your goal and (when to) move on to the next issue. You hold a lot of power whether or not you know it.”

Terry added the importance of groups like the NAACP in collaborating with other groups in the region.

“We have this tendency to separate everyone into silos: the black silo, the gay silo, the labor silo, etc., so when one group is struggling, we can just ignore it,” he said. “But we can’t, and once we realize that we’re not separated into these groups and we’re in the same boat together, then we will have a lot of power.”

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