Viewpoint: Marching in Jena – A Fight Worth Fighting

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Attending the “March for Justice” in Jena as a white male who has never experienced racial discrimination, I did not know what to expect or what my reaction to the events would be. I had pre-conceived notions of how I would be viewed as a white male attending this march. I had questions about the ultimate goal of the march as the conviction of the first member of the Jena 6 had been overturned this past week by a state appellate court. The reasoning for the march became clear when a 10-year-old girl stated, “I am here for justice; I am here to remember the struggle.”

When I heard this child’s words, I realized how important this “March for Justice” had in the broad sense of how our country deals with race today. Regardless of which side of the debate one falls on with the Jena 6, it cannot be denied that a 10-year-old girl making these statements is utterly appalling in our state in the year 2007. If this is how we make our children feel, what does this say for us as a society? Can we live with ourselves knowing yet another generation of black children expect to have a struggle for justice in their lifetimes? In trying to answer these two questions, there could be no doubt in my mind how needed this march was for the struggle to ensure justice and equal rights in America.

Throughout the day people marched, demanded justice for the Jena 6 and recounted the struggle the black race has faced in America’s storied history on civil rights. This idea was articulated no better than by Jim Johnson from Caldwell Parish.

Johnson told his story of growing up in a segregated Louisiana. Blacks and whites had “separate but equal” schools until the Supreme Court forced Southern states to integrate. He spoke about Southern and Grambling being the only choice for black college students as LSU and other “white colleges” refused to allow blacks in the door. He argued even today, there is a divide in the education system that leaves black students behind. In order to attain justice and equality, it is this divide that must be addressed for future generations.

Finally, he related this day to a turning point in the struggle for justice because the nation has once again had to confront the sin of unequal treatment of its citizenry based on race. He expressed hope that the children in Jena today would learn from the past and present events in shaping how they will lead in the future to ensure there is no struggle for the next generation.

A theme prevalent all day was that “Jena 6” situations occur everyday in every state. One protester’s t-shirt slogan had a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stating, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” This is a quote Americans can live by to ensure “Jena 6” situations do not happen everyday. When we as Americans go about our daily lives with not so much as batting an eyelash upon hearing of such occurrences, we enable the continued struggle our country faces because of the treatment of people based on their race.

It is important that as a country, we seek to progress as a society and not distinguish between one another because of who we are. All persons should be accepted and given equal treatment and dignity under the law as our Constitution mandates. When our founding fathers stated, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” they meant it and we should take notice. If we cannot accept this basic principle and put it into practice, we fail as a society.

If one thing can be taken from the Jena 6 march, it is that we as Americans should be vigilant in standing up for our fellow citizens in ensuring justice and equal treatment for all persons. We can take this opportunity to turn “Jena 6” into a positive situation by making a commitment to speak up and demand that children such as the 10-year-old girl, who want to remember the struggle will only have the memory of it and not have to actually live it. And perhaps we can finally realize the dream of Martin Luther King Jr. in ensuring “little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

And that is worth marching for.

Donald Hodge is an opinion writer for Louisiana State University’s The Daily Reveille.

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