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Rebirth


A discussion of Boston Freedom Summer, with Judy Richardson, Cynthia Silva Parker, Diana Auborg, Jeana Brown, Matthew Gibson, Tamara Mack-Lowe, and Chinyelu Martin

Introductions


Judy Richardson: Let's start by introducing ourselves: what kind of community do you come from; and why did you decide to join Freedom Summer?

Matthew Gibson: I come from a middle class neighborhood in Pasadena surrounded by areas of more affluence and also bordering streets that were really like the poorer neighborhood I worked with here in Boston. My neighborhood was pretty evenly Black, Latino, and White folks. We had a neighborhood association and over the years some of the leadership steered away from developing that neighborhood feel and joined with White folks who were there to buy property cheap, build it up, and live there.
I initially got politicized by coming into contact with people in places like Echo Park and Silver Lake -- where there are lots of artists and kids my age whose parents were in the movement. My first girlfriend was a Black Muslim and so around that time I started listening to reggae and more political kinds of stuff. Then my father took me into the garage and showed me about SNCC and the Black Panthers. He was on the march on Washington. My neighbor was in the Communist Party and was a teacher at UCLA who had been blacklisted. Later on I took a Black history course with him and a gentleman who was in the Panther Party. Over the years I fell by the wayside -- I guess in the latter part of high school -- and went back to drugs. Once I got out of rehab I decided to leave college because it was not a good environment.

JR: Because the drugs were there too?

MG: Right. I met Reverend Rivers [Reverend Eugene Rivers, Pastor of the Azusa Christian Community] in Atlanta for a conference. Reverend Rivers and I went to a part of Atlanta where there was a large Black community; there were Muslims; and then I stumbled on this little corner store. . . .

JR: Where Rap Brown is! He's the one who said that violence is as American as apple pie. He took over SNCC after Stokely Carmichael left and he's now an Orthodox Muslim, an Imam at the mosque.
MG: We had a conversation -- political stuff that had been just peripheral started to become more real.
JR: How about you, Jeana? Why didn't you just say: I'm going to be like everybody else?

Jeana Brown: I got into a private school in sixth grade. I realized I was different from my friends. I was up doing my homework till eleven o'clock at night. I'd look outside and I'd be so jealous, because people would be playing outside, late at night. But then, when I was applying to college, I realized that they didn't have this, and that I had a responsibility to them. Knowing who I was and knowing that these kids probably needed more support than I needed really gave me more obligation as well.
I guess my convictions come from my family background. Lots of the kids I see are like the kids in my family -- the adults, too. My strength comes from seeing these people as my family -- I see lots of parallels.

Tamara Mack-Lowe: I'm from Columbus, Ohio -- Jeana and I go to school together, at Yale. Last summer I worked at a social service organization. I learned a lot from it, but we had a conversation one night at school about how it would be more beneficial for me to work within the Black community and then Jeana told me about Freedom Summer.
I always had this glorification of White culture. . . .
JR: Didn't we all?

TML: I don't know if we all did. But I sure did. It was like having two warring ideals within me and I had to figure out what was really going on with myself. I finally figured out that it's because I always thought of the Black family -- the Black community -- as being somehow dysfunctional; I was totally brainwashed. That's another reason why this program was so good: it focused on politicization. I'm interested in community service, but I also developed an awareness that I never had. I saw how I could be an asset to the Black community. I go to various campuses because I play sports; I see a real dearth of Black faces. There are so few of us; and that puts a greater responsibility on those of us who are there to bring something back to the community.

Chinyelu Martin: I'm from Boston. I just graduated from Emory, in Atlanta. I grew up in a pretty rough neighborhood on Bowdoin Street, in Field's Corner -- but compared to what's rough now it was like a playground. And I was pretty much sheltered; my mom and my sister were around most of the time and I didn't really hang out by myself on the streets or anything. I kind of gravitated toward trouble and excitement, but I could draw the line: there was trouble, and then there were things I wouldn't do. I don't know what the reasons were. I guess it's probably from my sister and my mother and being at home in that environment. I'm not really a bad boy or a player or a gangster, but I do feel more at home with those types of people than with the suburban middle class. Even with middle class Blacks. There's a distance between me and a lot of people on the street too, but I feel like that gap is a lot smaller. That's what Jeana and other friends and I talk about: we have to operate in limbo, without having really any place to call home. Even though my status and resources put me in the middle class, I don't feel comfortable with middle class people, because their agenda is a little different.

JR: How is their agenda different from yours?

CM: I don't want to sound too harsh, but it's like the haves and have-nots. I guess I'm in the "haves" now, but I feel like I'm in line with the "have-nots," and that plays out in lots of ways. The color thing is really just wild in the middle class. And I feel more alive with people in the streets. So now I'm trying to find something to do where I can use my education. I like the classrooms a lot. I want to bring this community-based stuff to the classroom.

Cynthia Silva Parker: I come from Carver, a small, agricultural town in rural Massachusetts. I grew up in the Catholic Church, so I've always had some idea about God, although it was very distant to me, and I always had the vague idea that I wanted to help people. I wanted to be a pediatrician specializing in working with disabled kids. Then I got into theater and dance, and I wanted to be a dancing doctor. And then I got clear that I wasn't going to be a professional performer. I don't have that. They say it's 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration, and I have about 1/2% inspiration.
I went to college at Harvard/Radcliffe, and joined a new group called the Seymour Society -- a Black, Christian student fellowship that focused on bridging the gap between faith and practice. I became a Christian shortly before I joined them -- a Protestant, Pentecostal. It really helped me sharpen my focus on being willing to help people, and being really clear about the idea of personal responsibility that Jeana was talking about: "from those to whom much is given, much is required." I realized how much I have been given. If you look at occupational background, my parents would be considered working class -- my father was a draftsman, my mother was a nurse -- but with very middle class aspirations and lifestyle.
In the Seymour Society, we talked a lot about wanting to help and doing it in the context of being a committed Christian -- the way one lives out one's faith is in relationship to both the community of believers and the broad community. There's the parable of the sheep and the goats -- about people at their death going before God and accounting for what they've done. Jesus says: "Here are the ones who can come into my kingdom, those who fed the hungry, who visited the ones who were in prison, who took care of the sick." He goes through the list, and then the ones who didn't do these things say: "When didn't we do this for You?" And God says, "you didn't do this for the least of my brethren, so you haven't done it for me." That idea has been really important to me.

Diana Auborg: My parents are Haitian. They came to Cambridge in 1973. We lived in public housing, and then moved to another part of Cambridge which was a little bit better, more middle class. There were fewer Black people, more Italian, Portuguese. But the whole public housing mentality still stayed with us. I'm grateful for that.

JR: What about that was of value to you?

DA: It made me see the value of money, the value of having food when you want, in having people around you, other Black people, even though they're still living in the same conditions that you're living in -- in public housing or whatever. So now that I look back on it, I appreciate it, but when I was in it I wanted to be out.

JR: What values did you take from the public housing?

DA: The values weren't taken from public housing. It was more like the way my mother brought us up. My mother was raised poor. My father was raised relatively poor. That stays with you and it trickles down to your family, too, and the way you raise your family. You realize that certain things in life just aren't going to be given to you. And there's a sense of independence when your parents go to work and you're all alone and you learn how to cook, and how to take care of kids. I was eight years old, and taking care of my sister, who was a little baby. You learn to value certain things that other people really do not see the importance of.

JR: So why did you feel like you wanted to do something?

DA: I identify with what Jeana was saying about feeling different. When I was younger, I picked up a book on my own. My parents don't read. We didn't have books in our home. I didn't have anyone to take me to the library, I used to go on my own. Some of my friends would ask, what are you doing? You should be out playing. But I wanted to do my work. I got the support I needed from my family, but what I was doing wasn't always understood -- my mother and father didn't always understand the work I was involved in. It was just good that I was doing it.
In terms of getting into Freedom Summer: I've always wanted to work with Black people. I think a lot of my experiences and a lot of what I'm learning now has really shaped why I want to work with and for Black people in the community all my life. As for Freedom Summer -- I kind of just stumbled into it. But the things that I've gotten out of Freedom Summer are priceless -- just in working and seeing the state of Black people today. I see it everyday, and that is depressing, but it's also motivating. It's depressing because I think: oh my God, we're losing. But it's motivating because I think: now I see what's going on, now I know that it needs to be changed. Everyday, my experiences reaffirm my belief that I'm going to be doing this type of work all my life.

JR: I come from Tarrytown, New York. My father was a union organizer for the United Auto Workers in a Chevrolet plant, back in the '40s. He had a heart attack when I was seven and died on the assembly line. My mother was a homemaker. She had an eighth grade education. But she put a great value on education and so she was probably one of the most literate people I knew. She read everything. She read newspapers, she read periodicals, she used to have stacks of newspapers around the bedroom. And she was also a seamstress, so she used to work for White people in their homes doing seamstress work on upholstery and curtains. And then she played piano for a local jazz band. She was a very strong influence on my life.
When I was 18, I went to Swarthmore College. This was 1963 64 -- so Swarthmore, because it was Quaker, had a certain liberal tinge. But of the 300 some students on campus, the senior class had one Black person and the sophomore class had one. So there was this great, liberal push by Swarthmore -- they brought in eight of us, four girls and four boys, so that we would not do too much mixing outside our little group. (The group included Sarah Lawrence-Lightfoot, who's now at Harvard.) During that first year, there was a Students for a Democratic Society group on campus, and it was all White. I was kind of drawn to them because they had a radical tinge and because of the union stuff that my father was doing and because my mother always had that kind of left-of-center stuff. On a lark, I went with them to
a demonstration in Cambridge, Maryland. Most of the kids on the bus were White. But when I got into this mass meeting there were people like the local leader, Gloria Richardson, and a guy named Reggie Robinson. He was my age, out of Baltimore, and he was just a regular street person, but I watched him move the meeting -- he could do the rally talk, which I was never able to figure out, and he could get people singing and get them organized. So here was a group of people my age, who looked like me, who were thinking about things.
When I was coming up in Tarrytown, there was no Black middle class; when I finally met them in junior and senior high school, I felt, as a teenager, that they were very elite -- high-falutin'. It was one of the times, aside from race, that I realized I was being put down; I didn't like it, and it was the Black middle class that was doing it. But when I got to SNCC I found people who were not primarily middle class -- some were -- and all of us were working together, trying to empower people. Not the NAACP kind of people, whom we viewed as the teachers and the preachers, but more of the people who normally nobody paid any attention to. So, I saw people my age who were brilliant. Lots of them were coming out of predominantly Black campuses with a sense of service: that was a part of the mission of Black colleges. At Morehouse, for example, Julian Bond said that everyone came out with the sense that you're supposed to do something. Which I wasn't getting at Swarthmore. At Swarthmore, what I was getting was: "you're supposed to make it for yourself, you're supposed to get a good job." As a matter of fact, there were people on my hall who stopped talking to me -- all of whom were White -- because they said that Swarthmore had given me this chance, and I had messed it up -- being in jail and doing this stuff. I got into SNCC, stayed there for three years, and went to Mississippi.

Leadership


JR: Let's talk about some connections between your project and 1964. One thing that we did in the 1960s movement was to develop leaders; you're doing that too. People like you are assumed to be models, are supposed to be the leaders of your community. What's your sense of leadership?
CP: Looking at the other piece of '64: those White students became the leadership for the women's movement and the anti-war movement. At least from my reading of the history, it didn't seem like that was deliberate. I mean, you guys weren't setting up a leadership training project.

JR: Not for the White students, no.

CP: But it happened. So in organizing our project we said: we need to be much more deliberate about that in '94.

MG: That's an interesting point. How is it that a lot of the white folks I come in contact with -- who are the parents of friends of mine -- are still political, progressive, and yet some of those black people are now Clarence Thomas. Why do you think that is?

JR: Take Jennifer Lawson, who is head of all programming for PBS: she came out of SNCC, and now she carries into that position the values she got in the movement. And she says herself: "the way I focus on things, the way I see things, the kind of inclusion that I want to bring into public broadcasting, comes out of my work with SNCC and the movement." You look at somebody like Bernice Reagon: she starts in Albany, Georgia, as head of the local youth chapter of the NAACP. She becomes head of Black Family Life with the Smithsonian Institution, starts Sweet Honey in the Rock. That's because of the way she was formed, because her whole world view was changed.

CP: I would even take it another step. Watching the way the Algebra Project grew -- I was part of the staff as it began to go national -- I was fascinated by the extent to which Bob Moses relied on movement contacts. People who are now in foundations, people who are now lawyers, people who are now teachers, people who are now on boards of education: they all said "OK, I see how this connects to that earlier work. I see the argument about enfranchisement, about building this community, about raising the floor, about citizenship and participation."
JR: And they also assume that Bob is righteous. That doesn't mean that everybody in SNCC was righteous. There were people in SNCC whom I now stay away from. But the core of my friends are the people I was with in SNCC; I know that they bring values that I agree with, and that they're not out for themselves primarily.

DA: At Freedom Summer we talk about what being a leader is. And we also look at the Black leadership we have now. We talk about holding them accountable, about what they're doing, or if they're doing anything for us, and what we need to do if we choose to become leaders. I think that's a really important thing because right now you have a lot of people patting young Black kids on the back just for doing basic things -- like being in school, even if they can't cut it. It's going beyond just developing leaders; we need to have people think about what being a leader is.

JR: Maybe you want to talk a little bit about the leadership style that you all discuss and that you want to follow?
DA: I'm developing a new concept of leadership. I've been taught that a leader is someone who has a whole bunch of people following him. But being a leader is helping someone out, however you do it. Being a leader is looking at someone and saying: "you could be a leader, too." Being a leader is working with these young people and having them look at you and see that they can do something other than what they thought they could do. It's not what you're usually told a leader is. People make the mistake of calling Farrakhan a Black leader before they call Cynthia Parker a leader of Black people.

CM: Freedom Summer taught me that leadership is an everyday thing. The leaders I admire don't get up and do things once in a while, they don't speak once in a while. They are in command of themselves and they are about action and business. You can just see them taking charge of certain situations -- even if it's a water cooler falling down. You can see them delegating responsibility; you can feel the energy coming from them. I have a pretty good idea now of what I can do, and I'm trying to get to a mindset where I don't need to be motivated by somebody else's direction. If a problem is presented, I want to have the courage to step up to it with the tools to handle it, because one of my fears is to not be able to do it. In my life until now, I'd rather not take the shot; I'd rather give it to somebody else than take it and miss. But of course my greatest fantasy is taking it and winning. I want to get to the point where I'll be leading people in fulfilling some of the ideas I have for education, like bringing philosophy and the arts back into education. So I've been trying to come to grips with the process of being a leader, and having it be like a character or a nature, rather than a job.

JR: When I first got to the national SNCC office, it was above a little beauty parlor and it didn't look like anybody's national headquarters; we had a work room with humongous waterbugs. The first time I visited the office was with Reggie Robinson, the SNCC worker from Baltimore who was doing all this stuff in Cambridge, Maryland. Jim Forman, the executive director of the organization, was there and Reggie had not seen Forman for a while. They saw each other and ran to each other and hugged. But before they saw each other, I watched Forman, the executive director, sweeping the stairs in his overalls. He would not ask anybody to do anything in this office that he would not do himself. And, by his example, he was showing that all work was valued in the organization, and that no job was beneath anyone. So whatever is a part of what you're about, you've got to be able to do it, and value it enough to do it yourself.
CP: At the Ten Point Coalition, we take a page out of the Bible which has to do with a servant-leader model: the first should be last, and the last should be first. You want to be a leader, you have to sweep the stairs, you have to be the first one in and the last one out. You can't walk around thinking you're important.
JR: Or above something.
CP: Anything, above anything. When we think about who the leaders in the Black community are, go through this catalog in your head: How did they get there? Who promoted them? Who's their following? Can you actually get to them? We asked the students for one of the first writing exercises to describe a Black leader and give their take on this person. And there were two very different kinds of responses -- people who talked about national figures like Farrakhan and Jackson, and people who said: "My father because he showed me how to do this or that." Or my mother; or my pastor. And the people who talked about local figures were much more concrete about what this person had done in their lives.

JB: Another thing that is really important -- what Judy was talking about with James Forman sweeping the steps -- is owning the whole vision; even though you may have your individual role, you need to be able to slip in and out of it because roles change. I remember being on a leadership conference last summer and we were chopping up wood to make a ramp, and we each had ten steps. So I'm done and I go sit down, and my friend looks at me and says: "I got five more here to do." She didn't say it, it was just a look. That was hard for me to swallow: am I really so selfish and individualistic? And that really helped me to work out issues about how I saw our group.

Making a Difference in People's Lives


JR: Miss Ella Baker was the godmother of SNCC. She made an incredible impression on me. I have her picture . . . wherever . . . whatever office I'm in. She had this thing about make strong tracks for the young people behind you to step into. I have that written underneath her picture, along with a June Jordan quote: "A righteous mouth ain't nothin' you should hide." Ella Baker had this effect on me -- this is 30 years later. You don't realize what little stuff you will have said that will make a difference in the lives of the kids you are working with. It may be 20 years from now that something clicks for them. You'll have that effect because you do basic work -- with goals that are achievable. That was one of the things we always understood. The issue wasn't getting thousands of people on a march. Sometimes it was just getting three people to register to vote. In the process of all this stuff that was about social change, that was about radical redistribution of economic wealth, that was about changing the racist structure . . . the first step was about getting three people to register to vote.
CP: For me, it's getting Jeana and Tammy's group to go to the park and clean up. The first day, I'm thinking, oh they're gonna groan -- but they didn't. There was a little moaning and groaning, but one of the girls swept the basketball court with a broom. And she came and said to me, "Do you see how clean that court is?"
Part of the issue of dealing with these kids -- of making a difference with them -- was raised by a guy who was a very major drug-dealer in the neighborhood but said to several of the women in Azusa: I never met women like you before. I never met women who weren't "b's" and "w's" -- or whatever the latest negative terms are. I never met women who I could deal with as real people. Because, as much as people talk about women being victimized, he says, "I've been on the other end of a whole lot of stuff." He talked about how the pressures around dealing with women pushed him into the drug trade, to have the money to buy the jewelry, to do the dates.

CM: I'm so glad you said that -- that there's somebody out in the world who just said that. Last summer my friends and I would go out to clubs and parties and after that to a park and we would end up talking. One of the things we talked about was how interactions with females -- I guess the inability to interact with females -- facilitates a lot of the drug game, a lot of the violence, a lot of the macho thing, the tough thing. That's not there when you're just around guys. Guys wrestle and guys play, but it's nothing to lose when you're around guys. You get slammed on your head . . . but if a girl's around it's totally different. Just go to any basketball court when a group of girls come by. The intensity of the thing is turned up. And if you take that to a street level, when it's about your life -- what you do or what you are -- then you can just imagine how that intensity is going to go up a whole new level.

MG: Another part of it is the "worth it" thing: am I worth it? It is important to build more on that inner stuff. I used to read National Geographic a lot when I was little, and I think some of my drug use was just a way to get away from being seen as a nerd. Or I heard about Selven [Selven Brown, a former drug-dealer in Dorchester, who died last year at age 28]: he had 14 pairs of black Adidas sneakers -- maybe more than that. That wasn't just all for his girl -- he was just amassing that stuff to say: "I can get this, so I'm it. I'm the shit," for lack of a better word. Maybe this has something to do with the universal presence of White domination or colonization. But you see it even without that. I was thinking of a National Geographic picture of a woman in Laos, and she had all this silver, all the jewelry you'll ever have, and it was on her. And it was like she was saying: "OK, this is me." Just like all the gold we wear is saying "I count for something."

JR: Like a rural community counting how many cows it has.

MG: Exactly. But how you get those cows and what they mean to you apart from who you are often gets distorted and takes on a destructive tone in our communities. I went out for a little while with Selven's ex-girlfriend, who has a child by him -- a five year old girl named Ebony. We were looking at some pictures once, and his face was there; he came up in some of the pictures, which was strange: I'm going out with someone and the father of the little girl I'm getting attached to is dead. I don't know the person, but I'm just thinking: it's a Black man; he's not here. I can see some of the effects of him not being around and how this woman is living. She said: "you know when Selven was here, that girl had everything." Well, maybe not: I mean he wasn't the greatest guy either, but because she had the toys, because she had all the clothes, she had everything.

JR: Of course the other thing they did with the cows was that when somebody in the community didn't have enough to eat, they would give that family one of those cows. So there was a sense of community responsibility.

MG: There isn't that sense anymore. Now there's "I got mine, you got yours."

DA: On the community and the "I gotta get this, gotta get that" business: you see it with the young people you work with. The clothes they wear, what they want to buy, the gold chains and big earrings. They have all these needs and wants for material things. What they fail to realize is the collective condition: you're competing against your sister over here about who's got the most earrings, but both of you are getting food stamps. I'm not gonna knock anyone for wearing whatever they want to wear, but you still have to look at yourself and ask yourself "why?" Having people look in the mirror is the hardest thing, I think.

JR: Part of it is that you have to give people another reason to like themselves. Which is what you all were doing.

CP: I think that the base of it is really spiritual. Where does my value as a person come from? God says you're valuable because I made you, and you're wonderfully made, every last one of you. There's no need after that. If you actually believe that, it doesn't matter what you wear, it doesn't matter what you own.
JR: I don't come out of the church. Most of the people who influenced me didn't come out of the church -- I shouldn't say that. They were not in the church when I met them. Came out of the church, left the church. But I do think you need to have some sense of purpose. When I go into a church, I don't really connect with the preacher most of the time. What I connect with are the songs. Because there's something about the singing that puts you in a different place.
The important thing is to get a sense of community from the people around you -- they have to be a positive force around you. You have to have some people around you, who, even when they get down, even when they get low, even when they say, "I don't want to do this anymore," somehow keep coming back and still believe that we as a community of people can make it through this. I have a girlfriend at USA Today. She's an editor. Her main thing is: "Honey, if we survived slavery, we can survive anything."

MG: Going back to what Diane said about looking in the mirror: that's hard. I don't think many people do that; myself and other people had the rare and frightening opportunity to do that in the context of mental illness. You have to be real careful about taking people to the mirror because they might see some stuff that causes them to flip out, causes them -- with good reason -- to say "I'm not gonna live with it; I'm not gonna deal with it, because it's too hard to deal with." You might have to start out real small, like getting them to do something that they can accomplish and move on from there. We have kids that don't want to write a letter to the city councilman to get the gym open because it's not going to happen anyway. If getting the gym open doesn't happen right now, if it takes a while, there's a chance that it might fail and if it fails then I'm still a bad person like I was yesterday.

JR: We need to think about how we get that across. When I talk about the Montgomery bus boycott, I stress that they did it for 381 days. They stayed off those buses, they walked seven or eight miles and carpooled for 381 days. But the reason they stayed together was that they organized this transportation system. We have to be able to show young people that Black folks are not triflin' like some people might think. We have this thing that we internalize because people tell us, that we can't stick with anything. They stuck with it; they built a transportation model; they did it for 381 days. And it made change. But somehow we have to keep reinforcing that we do stick with stuff; we ain't triflin', because at the point that you buy the triflin' image, you buy their version of us.

CP: I think it comes back to what AJ does with his kids in the morning. They walk in, he says, "I love you, and I respect you" [AJ is Andrew J. Brown, Jr., Director of the Office of Urban Ministries, Archdiocese of Boston]. Some of them get all shy, but there's a theory in social psychology about people's self-concept being built on how they see themselves reflected back. We talked about this around dealing with the kids. We had some college students who got very frustrated with the high school kids and used the same sort of conflict resolution "nonstrategies" the kids use: if you come at me disrespectfully, I'm gonna come at you that way too because you're acting like you deserve it. We've said that you can't do that. It doesn't matter whether they act like they deserve respect or not. They deserve it because they're here, and we have to give it out whether they act like they deserve it or not. And we have to show them a different way of dealing with disrespect; we have to show them that there's another way to be. And we have to reflect back to them that they are people who are worthy of respect.

DA: Matt sometimes says that some of the kids get offended when you treat them with respect. That's true. We had an issue about looking people in the eye when they're speaking and giving people attention. One of the girls had a problem with that, and she just wouldn't do it: "Why, why, why? I start laughing, I start giggling when I look people in the eye." And when we talked about it she said: "No one looks at me in the eye when I talk to them; why should I look at them." So the resolution was that everyone would look her in the eye when she speaks. That's about the self concept, about what you see from other people.

CP: One part of our work is to connect this very micro level stuff about impacting people's lives with bigger issues. We have a Tuesday morning intellectual "boot camp" where people are plowing through pages and pages of Frances Fox Piven, Harold Cruse, and Adolph Reed. We have all these goals for the people we are serving -- the high school kids, the middle school kids, the neighborhood. But we also have goals for the college age people -- ratcheting up their commitment to work in the struggle, and ratcheting up the intellectual skills they need to address important issues. So part of our desire for these students is on the intellectual end, as well as developing their skills for interacting with people.

Personal Changes


JR: What has changed for you? Has your view of the world or your community or yourself changed because of what you've been doing this summer?

DA: I feel that there's so much I don't know, and that's opened a lot of things up for me. And there's a whole wealth of knowledge about myself. I learned that I need to work on myself a lot more, get myself together.

TML: Working with my group was an excellent opportunity for self-evaluation and self-reflection -- seeing myself through their eyes. And also seeing the way they look at the world, what's going on in their minds. Sometimes I'm kind of skeptical about whether or not anything is going on. And to see that not only is something going on there, but how deep that something is -- it's fostering my desire to continue this work. I know that's a motif throughout this: how smart these kids are. But when you actually experience it, it changes you dramatically, radically.
We were playing with one little boy, doing a mural, and we wanted to have the faces of people who died from violent deaths translucent in the mural, and one little boy said: "Yeah, and we can have guns in the mural." And another little boy said: "No, no, no. That's the whole problem, that's why they're in the mural in the first place." Stuff like that gets me really excited.

JR: So how has it changed the rest of you all?

MG: One of the main objectives that I want to come out of the program is that people working on the project will begin to make the concepts of the program their own thing. I'd be a facilitator for stuff they're thinking of doing, or actually bringing about -- where they can say: "That's something I've achieved." And that's already happened. They're beginning to make realizations that are simple to some people, but really are hard for others -- including them. For example, I had two kids working with me -- Tyrone and Willie. Willie went with Tyrone to make a phone call. Tyrone picked up the phone and said: "Let me speak to the mayor." So Willie said: "That's stupid, you're stupid. Don't you know anything? I knew you'd mess it up." Afterwards, I was talking to Willie and I said: "If you have some experience with doing something, you can transmit your experience and have him learn from it." And he said: "Yeah, you're right I know that I made him feel dumb and that was wrong; I will stop this from turning into a fight." Then he said: "We should start looking at ways that we can also start working on our own projects. I want to put up a big piece of paper with your ideas and where we can put up our ideas, too." It was good to see that those kinds of things started happening.

JR: What keeps you going from day to day, working in the community, even when you are tired or depressed about something?

JB: Motivation for me varies from day to day. It depends on the kids' attitudes and my attitude. I have highs and lows and I think part of my process of development now is trying to leave my personal stuff at home. God gave me the chance to be a healthy, contributing individual and if I'm not doing that then I feel that I've not only failed myself, but that I'm not contributing to something that God helped me to do. A lot of times I get in a rut and I think: God, I'm here, just let me be. But I realize it's bigger than me, and seeing these kids every day makes me realize that I just need to get over it. It really helps for me to go in and see these kids and think: praise the Lord, there is a God!

CM: Seeing some people come in on certain days and they just don't have it; they just don't have the energy or the capacity to deal with their specific group of kids that day, and it's nice to see other folks that may have it that day step in. I see that with Freedom Summer: people who are not traditionally talkative, the people who usually don't do certain things, step in and do it well. It is refreshing for me, especially coming from academia, where people talk a lot but don't necessarily do much or just stick to doing the things they're good at. It was refreshing to see folks with this type of consciousness and sense of duty and sense of self -- people who could learn from people and teach people at the same time. That's really what motivated me, inspired me, to take on this Freedom Summer thing. It's given me a sense of what could happen -- a community with Black lawyers, Black judges, Black from top to bottom. It can happen; so even if this doesn't get off the ground, it's important to me that it happened with Black people, intelligent Black people, being active and practical, and that makes me a lot more positive than I was before.

CP: One of the things that's changed for me is that I now know more of my neighbors by face and by name. That's great, and it also puts me on notice. Sometimes I'm walking from my house to the school and I'm in my own thoughts, and looking tired, or just letting the way I feel show. And I see somebody and I know that people are watching, and that it's important what you do, and how you carry yourself.
Also, in my own leadership and organizational style, one of the things that's been a stretch for me is being able not just to look at a problem and say: "How am I going to solve it?" Bob Moses has said for years that you look at the problem and ask: "Where are my resources for solving this problem?" That is sometimes a frustrating approach because it means you can want to take on stuff that is much bigger than it's reasonable to take on. But what's been refreshing to me is to be able to delegate, or to take the leap and go hire somebody whom I've never heard of to run an incredibly important project and have them work with it and be able to be o.k. with that.

JR: So is there anything else you all want to say?

CP: I was born just before Freedom Summer; I missed all of that in real time but for me it's incredible to hear the stories of people like you, Judy, who were there and to see the threads that connect us -- not just the macropolitical threads, but the personal threads -- hearing about Jim Forman sweeping the stairs and knowing that I still believe that is the way people ought to conduct themselves as leaders. I want to carry myself that way as a leader.

Click here to return to the Boston Review Series, Freedom Summers.

Originally published in the December 1994/January 1995 issue of Boston Review



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