Civil Rights icon and Congressman John Lewis spoke with journalist Bill Moyers yesterday, November 12, 2015, at SUNY College at Old Westbury, in a panel moderated by Les Payne. In her review of this significant event, Newsday’s Candice Ferrette interviewed one of our very own English majors, Daphne Mezier. Below is the full text of the article, with Ms. Mezier’s words in bold, followed by a link to view it on Newsday’s page.
Civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis was 25 years old when he and other nonviolent demonstrators were beaten and tear-gassed by state troopers on the way from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama on March 7, 1965.
Journalist Bill Moyers, then an assistant to President Lyndon Johnson, was at home about 1,000 miles away, listening to news reports about violence against those same young black activists trying to get the right to vote.
Both men retold that pivotal moment in American history Thursday to a packed crowd of students, faculty, staff and donors at a special event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The College at Old Westbury — a 4,400-student institution founded with a mission of promoting social justice and civil rights.
“It was one of those moments when the unpremeditated courage of those young people and John Lewis changed history,” said Moyers, who made loose references to recent events, such as those at the University of Missouri, where student protests against racial discrimination led to the resignation of the university’s president.
“Never forget it takes courage on the ground,” said Moyers, 81, a longtime award-winning broadcast journalist and commentator who was publisher of Newsday from 1967 to 1970.
Lewis (D-Ga.) has been a member of Congress for more than 30 years. A founder of the activist Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, he played a central role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. His graphic novel, “March,” written with Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell, is required reading for freshmen at The College at Old Westbury.
“My hope is with the very young,” said Lewis, 75, the only person among those addressing the thousands on the National Mall during the 1963 March on Washington who is still alive. “I am very optimistic about the future. We will get there. We will lay down the burden of race, and if we can get it right, we will serve as a model for the rest of the world.”
Daphne Mezier, 22, an English major, said she felt guilty and inspired after hearing Lewis tell his story of being arrested 40 times during nonviolent protests — the first time as a college student during the Woolworth’s department store lunch counter sit-in of 1960 in Greensboro, North Carolina.
“When you hear about what they did in their youth, you can’t help but feel like you’re not doing enough,” she said.
Keri Springett, 22, a senior majoring in marketing, said, “I’m thinking we need to have a louder voice outside the campus and get involved in what’s going on in the community.”
Both women, who are black, said they believe the Old Westbury campus is a good example of diversity and inclusion. Even when issues pertaining to race are discussed or debated in class, they said there’s never been an instance when discrimination or hatred among students has marred the conversation. The college’s charter, created in 1965, has a mandate to educate a diverse, multicultural student population with an interdisciplinary curriculum.
The current student body is quite racially diverse: 33 percent white, 29 percent African-American, 21 percent Latino and 10 percent Asian, according to college data from the fall semester.
Laura Anker, distinguished professor of American Studies and director of the college’s first-year experience program, said she believes the student body seems to “have an understanding of what it means to be a college like ours that was born out of the human and civil rights movement.”
“I think they are taking away from this event a feeling of pride and empowerment,” she said.