#GreensboroNow

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Four new digital citizens stand in front of the lunch counter at the ICRC&M 55 years after four A&T students launched the 1906s sit in movement. Left to right: Alexis Anderson, April Parker, Irving Allen, and Kristen Jeffers. Photo by Stephen Charles.

Four new digital citizens stand in front of the lunch counter at the ICRC&M 55 years after four A&T students launched the 1906s sit in movement. Left to right: Alexis Anderson, April Parker, Irving Allen, and Kristen Jeffers. Photo by Stephen Charles.

The four walk through the gift shop at the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, past souvenirs, ballcaps, 1960s Sit-In Movement T-shirts, and through a door marked “Employees Only.” It leads to a large exhibit room and the original Woolworth’s lunch counter where, 55 years ago this month, four students sat down and asked to be served.

Had it happened in 2015 the A&T Four would likely have tweeted that first meeting: #SeparateIsNotEqual.

Today, four new leaders line up in the front of the lunch counter: Alexis Anderson, April Parker, Irving Allen, and Kristen Jeffers. Local photographer Stephen Charles snaps a few pictures. Then Charles says, “Okay, hands up.”

It’s “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” a gesture that’s brought a mix of respect and revolt since it first appeared at protests in the wake of the August 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. And it’s just as clear a sign about where you stand on the issues facing black America today as it was for a black man or woman to sit at a lunch counter in 1960s. Only today there’s a museum rope around the lunch counter.

“Trust,” says Parker. “Fifty-five years from now, they’ll thank us.”

In the last four months there’s been a visible increase in civic activity in Greensboro, spearheaded by the national Black Lives Matter movement, and locally mobilized by digital activists like Parker and many others. Motivated by traditions of the Civil Rights Movement of the ’60s, such as the sit-ins, these young leaders are using new tools the keep the conversation going.

In November 210014, using social media and texts, protesters organized a 300-person march from the municipal building to the International Civil Rights Center & Museum and shut down South Elm Street in front of the museum.

In December, faculty, students and staff held a die-in at Bennett College.

In January, protesters packed city-council chambers to voice their support of the museum board’s concerns over the mayor’s offer for the city to run the museum.

This month, protesters held a daylong teach-in at Melvin Municipal Office Building, leading up to a council meeting where the council voted to keep the word “massacre” instead of “shootout” on the historical marker.

“There is increased activism, and I think that is a good thing,” says Mayor Nancy Vaughan, when asked if she’s noticed more civic activity from her side of the dais. “And I hope it will be sustained.”

In response to the Black Lives Matter Greensboro movement, Vaughan says the city is planning a series of conversations and hearings, starting on Feb. 24 at 6 p.m. at Bennett College. The first meeting will be on police accountability and neighborhood relations, Vaughan says.

“You have the trending topics… you see it in your newsfeed,” Anderson says about this hashtag activism. “There’s no way to escape it.”

Read the full story in Triad City Beat’s February 11 issue. 

Letting Go of the Lunch Counter

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The lunch counter exhibit at the International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro, NC. Photo via ArchDaily.

The lunch counter exhibit at the International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro, NC. Photo via ArchDaily.

Lacy Ward has a few questions.

They may have started back in November when the International Civil Rights Center & Museum fired him as executive director. Or back in April 2014, when he first arrived with fresh eyes, a ton of experience and eagerness to build a bridge between the community’s desire for a more inclusive museum board and the board’s desire for exclusive governance.

In retrospect, Ward says he missed a few crucial clues indicating it wasn’t going to happen like that. And now, he says the city’s broader vision to honor Civil Rights can still happen. It’s just probably not going to happen at the corner of February One and Elm Street.

“People are saying, ‘My vision is…,’” Ward says, leaving off the end of the sentence. “People have been disappointed that their vision has not been fulfilled by an institution. That doesn’t mean you give up on your vision.”

When asked, Ward doesn’t say what that vision is. He just kicks the question back: What do you think? What’s your vision?

I saw an incubator for social change. Where people from around the world or across the state could gather, vet out their differences, find some healing and some solutions. Organize and join the fight against Amendment One. Embrace immigrants. Establish a living wage. Give Greensboro an identity that could attract jobs and keep them here.

But the museum’s vision is to remain exclusive in its governance and its appeal, Ward says. That’s to be respected. And it’s time to move on.

“You can spend a lot of time saying, ‘Please do these things there,’” Ward says. “So the question should be, ‘Where can we get these things done?’”

If it can’t happen at the lunch counter where can it happen? And how would we get there?

Ward offered some questions and a few answers.

Why are we asking the ICRC&M to be more than it wants to be?

“We’ve probably asked that question as a community for two decades. I think a great number of people see potential in dealing from a broader community perspective with this city’s Civil Rights history. And everyone that’s had those views has tried to express those views through the historic site, through the lunch counter. And that may not be the only avenue.”

Where do you invest to satisfy those aspirations?

“Financial sustainability comes from broad appeal. The broader your market, the broader the basis of support, the more places you can go for financial support and better the possibility of being financially sustainable.

“If you have a board where the major donors are not part of the governing structure, then you don’t have a healthy nonprofit, because it’s their motivation, excitement around the future vision that continues to draw in additional funding. And if they’re not present, that means they’re not part of creating a future vision.

“They can share a creative vision, and you can vet out the differences as you walk along the path. Neither side wants to walk down the path by itself. Creative and capital have to work together. If you don’t have both, there’s no way to convert vision to reality.”

What aspirations are you trying to fulfill?

“Part of the vision [at the museum] was to see the A&T Four as college students. To see them in the context of all college students enrolled in Greensboro at that time. The city is very fortunate to have a diversity of higher-ed institutions, and as college students, to see what was it like from multiple perspectives.

“That can still be done: What’s it like to be a student when your nation is changing? And it’s as simple a question as that. And I think you want to get a lot of different answers. One answer might be activism. One answer might be nonchalant. One answer might be working too hard as a student to even pay attention to the outside world. There’s no one student view.”

Why are we focusing on the museum to fulfill a broader community vision?

“This is the question for the community. The external community as well needs to ask itself, needs to ask for a different result from that body. Knowing what you want, what are the different avenues to make that available? Which ones will you choose? And that’s a process, I can’t give you an answer.”

This article originally published in Triad City Beat, Feb. 4.