The statement reads as follows, “America is fast losing the respect of other nations by the poor example which she sets in the area of race relations.” Fast forward fifty years later and replace “other nations” with Generation Y and you now have a new movement emerging within the United States, one that not only entails race relations but other inequalities as well. Yet, the greatest threat facing this generation is not unemployment or healthcare reform but the growing gap between members of this group in and of itself. While some individuals within this segment are gradually moving up the corporate ladder and are content with the way things are, others are quickly becoming dissatisfied with the environment around them.
On October 25th I had the privilege of discussing this very issue when I was asked to participate on the 1960 Who? Panel. Aimed at promoting dialogues between two distinct generations, the panel was presented with the task of examining the social struggles Generation Y faces today versus that of the 1960’s, and how youth activism has evolved toward it. The panel consisted of Mr. Charles Person, Freedom Rider and Atlanta Student Movement participant, Mr. Lonnie King, Founder of the Atlanta Student Movement, Dr. Roslyn Pope, author of An Appeal for Human Rights, Ms. Ayanna Sloan, Mass Media professional and Clark Atlanta Graduate, and Morehouse student Mr. Kuame Morris .
The latest project from Award-winning photographer Sheila Pree Bright, 1960 Who? consists of a culmination of photographic portraits of Freedom Riders and members of the Atlanta Student Movement who sought to bring about social change within their communities. Weather they were educators, housewives, or everyday citizens each individual sought to improve America. The 14 life- sized portraits are part of Atlanta’s public art experience, Elevate 2013 and will be on view across downtown Atlanta and the Old Fourth Ward. Set as a three part campaign to promote activism, the exhibition allows nearby pedestrians to interpret the art free from gallery walls and to conjure up their own point of view.
Comparably, participants from the 1960 Who? Panel were asked to examine this very concept as they explored the ideals behind youth activism in the 60’s versus that of 2013. Growing up in Georgia during the civil rights era presented a plethora of challenges for African Americans. Segregation was prevalent throughout the south and there were no opportunities for individuals to gain access to decent jobs. Fed up with the duality of the system however and eager to make a change, members of the Atlanta Student Movement began to take matters into their own hands. By organizing around a common goal and demanding equality through non-violent protests, the Freedom Riders issued an Appeal for Human Rights. Composed by Dr. Roslyn Pope the doctrine not only outlined the disparities within the education system, housing, and voting rights but also forced the nation to reevaluate the injustices plaguing the youth.
Today’s generation will never experience segregation or know what it is like to live during the civil rights era, however, that is not to say they do not possess their own challenges. From bullying to domestic terrorism, this crowd has seen it all, and yet their greatest threat stems from their own imprudence. While one fraction continues to experience a surge of prosperity, the other continues to linger behind to keep up with the Joneses. Many of these individuals attend the same universities as their peers, maintain part time jobs throughout high school and college, and earn decent paying jobs. Yet when it comes down to networking and exchanging ideas there is a big gap between those who are heavily informed about current issues and those who are content on adopting traditional norms.
However if there is one thing the 1960 Who? panel taught me, it’s that there is no difference between the voices of the 1960s and now. Yet while one has an arsenal of networking services at their disposal such as Twitter and Facebook, the other relies heavily on their experience. Dr. Lonnie King, Dr. Pope, and Mr. Person were all able to affect change within their communities solely because they all had one goal in mind. While today’s generation believes that the American dream should be improved they remain stagnant on where they should begin. Social networking has allowed Generation Y to reach insurmountable demographics that the Freedom Riders could only hope to attain, but with fewer dialogues taking place it is becoming harder and harder for them to have meaningful conversations. Consequently, Ms. Bright’s portraits not only pave the way for new social dialogues to take place but also stand as a constant reminder of how people can come together to fight for a common cause.