Huston-Tillotson University

UT students came together Saturday with students from Huston-Tillotson University and members of the general public to discuss the issue of racial bias in present-day society.

The event titled “End Racism and the New Jim Crow: Families of Police Violence Victims Speak Out” was held at Huston-Tillotson University in East Austin. The event was co-organized by several organizations, including the UT chapter of the national organization Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

The discussion focused on national and local instances of police misconduct driven by racial bias. In many of the instances, an African-American man was killed by police at the crime scene or while in custody. The family members and victims shared their stories to explain why there needs to be additional and stronger legislation to prevent such misconduct from happening in the future.

Speakers included Eva Haywood, mother of James Haywood, an African-American man that died in 2011 at the age of 33 in the custody of the Elgin Police Department in Central Texas. Airicka Taylor also spoke at the event from Chicago via Skype. She is the cousin of Emmett Till, an African-American boy killed in 1955 at the age of 14 by Mississippi police, spurring on the then emerging national civil rights movement.

Roughly a dozen event attendees stood up and shared their experience with racially-motivated misconduct.

Several of the event’s co-organizers, including government senior Michelle Uche, also spoke at the event. She broke down in tears as she spoke about the lack of public awareness of such misconduct in Austin and nationwide. Uche called the issue “systematic,” because of its frequency and the lack of oversight regarding it.

“This idea that black life can be extinguished by anyone at any time is systemwide and it needs to stop, but it will not stop until we get together and we fight it,” she said. “There will be no justice for us until we get together and we demand it.” Speaker Eva Haywood said racially motivated police misconduct often occurs because police tend to treat people unfairly once they have been convicted of a crime.

“Because our children break the law, it doesn’t mean they are not worth anything,” she said. “They are worth something.”

Felisa Yzaguirre, event moderator and 2012 UT alumna, encouraged event attendees to join organizations that advocate for civil rights in order to fight racially motivated misconduct.

Outside the event, the UT chapters of Campaign to End the Death Penalty and the International Socialist Organization set up tables to allow event attendees to join their organizations and find out about related events.

Printed on Monday, October 22, 2012 as: Students discuss current racial bias

Delores Lenzy-Jones, Sabrina OBerry, Melvin Coleman, Mailynn Hart and Arnold Garrett perform a prayer at the Capitol during the 19th Annual Community March celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Day, Monday morning. The parade began at the MLK Statue on UT campus, marched to the Capitol and then on to Huston-Tillotson University.

Photo Credit: Rebeca Rodriguez | Daily Texan Staff

Although progress has been made in the 43 years since his death, activists still pursue Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of racial equality as Austin residents celebrated his life and work Monday at an annual march.

The city of Austin’s 19th Annual MLK Community March on Monday morning saw an estimated 15,000 people travel from the East Mall to the Capitol and finally to historically black Huston-Tillotson University in celebration of the life and works of Martin Luther King Jr. The civil rights leader’s teachings of nonviolent protest and civil disobedience helped bring civil rights to the forefront of the political agenda, ending institutionalized segregation.

U.S. President Ronald Reagan signed Martin Luther King Jr. Day into law in 1983 as the third Monday in January, the same year that students in the African-American culture committee at UT created the Annual MLK Community March, said UT march coordinator Brenda Burt.

“It was a student initiative, and our students decided that they wanted to honor King by having a march, and it’s been going on for 29 years,” Burt said. The march began with an opening address by Burt and President William Powers Jr., followed by an address by Edmund T. Gordon, department chair for the African and African Diaspora Studies Department. The marchers then traveled to the Capitol where participating gospel choirs performed, and then to Huston-Tillotson University where the performances of local bands were combined with an oral history of MLK’s push for de-segregation in Austin.

Austin was one of the first cities to embrace Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which was not celebrated in all 50 states until 2000. This displays Austin’s highest values, said Austin mayor Lee Leffingwell, who took part in the march.

“The march reflects well on Austin’s values, that we respect what Dr. King did and that we are proud to recognize and honor his accomplishments,” Leffingwell said. “In many if not most social issues, students have led the way, and UT is no exception.”

Monday’s march also displays the values of UT, which continue to demonstrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy to this day, said Powers.

“Dr. King’s achievements resonate among all Americans but we see it quite visibly here on our campus,” Powers said. “We are not at the end of our journey, but we’ve come a long way and I think celebrating Dr. King on campus is particularly important because today is not just a celebration, but a re-dedication to the values of Dr. King.”

This is a particularly important day, given the continuing inequality of wealth in the United States, said Gordon.

“MLK would not be content with a mere celebration on his birthday,” Gordon said. “He believed nothing would be done until people put their bodies and souls into motion, and the uneven distribution of wealth is reaching historic proportions.”

Austin resident Karalin Joyce shared that belief. She said she participated in the march to honor the traditions of Martin Luther King Jr.“We don’t have equality, we just have this pretty picture that everything is better,” Joyce said. “Racism is still there. We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go.”