Award-winning student poets, local musicians and social justice activists gathered in the New Haven People’s Center yesterday afternoon to discuss what some are calling the “New Civil Rights Movement.”
Connecticut People’s World, a communist news organization, hosted the 41st annual African-American History Month celebration and a youth march yesterday to raise awareness about recent acts of violence against African-American youth. The event, attended by roughly 60 New Haven residents, featured guest speaker Zenobia Thompson, a social justice advocate from St. Louis, Mo. Thompson spoke about the situation in Ferguson, Mo. following Michael Brown’s death as well as how communism has changed her world view. Thompson said Ferguson is changing the face of social justice in the United States and supported the notion that the reaction to Ferguson is the “New Civil Rights Movement.”
“It’s going to take some time, but Ferguson is going to change things,” Thompson said. “It has significant potential to change the way the police respond to our community.”
In her speech, Thompson illustrated the distrust, fear and anger between citizens and police in Ferguson as a result of Brown’s death. Thompson emphasized that it is necessary for citizens and legislators to scrutinize policies within the police department.
Thompson also spoke about how communism led her to a career in social justice and how it enlightened her about African-American history. Thompson stressed the importance of sharing untold stories and historiography, and encouraged young black members of the community to become historians.
“African-Americans are intertwined in the history of this country,” Thompson said. “We have a role in this country that cannot be denied.”
Attendees expressed enthusiasm about Thompson’s message, clapping, nodding and cheering throughout her speech.
Audience member Baub Bidon, a local poet, actor and playwright, said the event was particularly impactful because it took place at the New Haven People’s Center, which is part of the Freedom Trail. Bidon said celebrating and honoring the young people in New Haven and bringing Thompson to speak was important to him because he wanted to travel to Ferguson following the shooting, but could not.
“To have Thompson come down here brings Ferguson to us,” he said.
The beginning of the event focused on the role youth play in progressing social justice and celebrating African-American History Month in the community. Two local youth groups, the New Elm City Dream and the New Haven Young Communist League, led a march through the streets of New Haven sporting banners and signs with slogans about equal justice.
“The reason why we did this march was to remind us that black history matters,” said Duron Gaskins, a member of the New Haven Young Communist League. “We’re here to keep the dream alive and to not forget where we came from.”
Following the march, six local youths were recognized for their submissions to the Dalzenia and Virginia Henry African-American History Month High School Arts & Writing Competition.
The theme of the competition, was “How Do We Achieve Justice For All?” The first and second place projects were poems, and the third place project was a painting. Three other projects were honorably mentioned.
“It meant a lot because I wasn’t expecting to win and I’m happy that they appreciated my vision for the project,” said Mama Soumahoro, the first place student from Engineering Magnet High School.
The New Haven People’s Center was founded in 1973.