Black students have historically been among the greatest Civil Rights leaders in the Black community. Young people bring the energy and bravery of youth, mixed with the boldness of idealism, to movements that ultimately change our nation. The Civil Rights Movement was led by a bunch of students who defied their parents’ wishes by volunteering to be beaten upside the head at lunch counters. Young people drove the entire dotcom era, causing their parents to memorize ridiculous words like Twitter, Yahoo, Myspace, Google and Facebook. It is this same youthful energy that can reignite the pursuit of social justice in America, and the Heather Ellis case is a great place to start.
Heather Ellis is a young black college student now facing 15-years in prison for allegedly cutting line at a local Walmart. Her cousin was in the shorter line, and when Heather joined her cousin, she was accused of cutting in front of the other customers. An argument ensued, with security and police being called. While details are fuzzy at that point, we now know that Heather is being charged with two felony counts of assaulting a police officer, alleging that she kicked the officers when they were trying to arrest her.
I find this to be outrageous, given that Heather, a pastor’s daughter, is a premed student with no criminal record. In that regard, she could be anyone’s daughter, sister, mother or friend. A 15-year old boy, Walter Currie, was set on fire by a classmate in nearby Poplar Bluff, MO, with the attacker allegedly yelling racial epithets while he burned him. This is what we are dealing with in this Missouri community: a blatant disregard for the Civil Rights of young African Americans, and that’s why we must fight.
As a result, our plan is to march on the town of Kennett, MO for these two black students. On November 16, at 11 am, we will converge on the Walmart in Kennett where the incident took place. At that point, we will make sure that the town is aware that this kind of injustice won’t be tolerated. I am not sure if we will win the fight, but I can assure you that we will fight to win.
Black students are needed in movements such as this one. The energy, spirit, vision and courage of young black college students can serve as a blueprint for activism in the 21st century. So, while protestors are burning up the pavement with picket signs and podiums, young black students around the country should be lighting up the Internet with Facebook posts and Twitter messages.
Change is coming, whether we like it or not. By aggressively embracing our destiny, we can create a future that belongs to us. Education is the key to empowerment, but education without action is virtually worthless.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. He is also the author of the forthcoming book, “Black American Money.” For more information, please visit www.BoyceWatkins.com.