Reflections on Charleston and Obergefell

Posted July 2, 2015 by Joy Lawson

Last month I was in Durham, North Carolina with People For the American Way Foundation staff and local leaders discussing strengthening community leadership, connection, and building power within the south. I left with a feeling of great potential and possibility for progressive change. Yet that evening I heard the news of the massacre in Charleston.

The deep sadness and anger that I felt – and continue to feel – pushes our community to have the strength to take action. As Young People For (YP4) continues to mourn the loss of Charleston community members from last month’s act of hateful violence, we remind ourselves that this attack is part of a long history of hate crimes that have targeted Black and Brown places of worship for generations. This heinous act of terrorism and the subsequent acts of violence against Black churches in the south requires remembering that these are not sole incidents but bound up in history. As we hold space for those who are hurting throughout our country, we join together in solidarity with communities that are affected by violence every day.

On the first night of our Cleveland training staff, alumni, and fellows gathered with the Cleveland community at the Cudell Recreation center as his family marked what would have been Tamir Rice’s 13th birthday. This experience bonded our fellows together and centered our conversations for the weekend.

We also saw hope. The Supreme Court advance love, fairness, and justice through decisions on marriage, health care, and housing discrimination. We saw the impact that bringing together research, litigation, and activism had on the North Carolina voter ID law. We also spoke with our fellows about alternatives and action to address ongoing problems through their Blueprints for Social Justice. It is for these reasons that our first regional training filled me with optimism.

Optimism rooted in knowing that the courage of a resilient and resourceful generation is directed towards and committed to shift the institutions that perpetuate inequity and racism. In the majority opinion on Obergefell v. Hodges the Justices wrote that the generations before us, “did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a character protecting the rights of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning.”

As we welcome our new fellowship class, I’m also excited to introduce some changes that will help us continue our critical work to create progressive change in communities. First, Mercedes Fulbright will transition into the Civic Engagement and Advocacy Associate position. As a result, the Fellowship Associate position is now open at YP4. Poy Winichakul, YP4’10, was awarded the Root-Tilden-Kern Public Interest Scholarship and will be attending NYU’s Law School this fall and Erik Lampmann, YP4’ 11, will be taking over as the Courts Matter Leadership Consultant. Also, please join me in welcoming our summer interns Christina Tudor, Ilana Falick, Randiss Hopkins, and  Regennia Johnson.