Advocacy in Action: An Intergenerational View on Activism

By: Mitul Brahmbhatt

The panelists listened to Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons speak on the experiences leading her to becoming an activist. Simmons participated in several of Martin Luther King Jr.'s marches for desegregation.

The University of Florida Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations (CSRRR) and the Multicultural and Diversity Affairs in the Division of Student Affairs (MCDA) hosted “Advocacy in Action: An Intergenerational Panel” to discuss Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of a “Beloved Community” on Jan. 25.

This event sought to show generational perspectives regarding the civil rights movement of particularly impoverished and typically African American communities over the last 50 years.

Panelists

From Left to Right: Diedre Houchen, Chanae Baker, Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, Chad Chavira, Jeremiah Tattersall.

Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons is a former Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee organizer and current UF Department of Religion faculty member. Among her many other contributions to the civil rights movement and expertise in international human rights, Simmons participated as a sit-in protestor during the demonstrations at Spelman College in Atlanta – where she met Martin Luther King Jr.

Chanae Baker is a community organizer, activist, political organizer, blogger and parent. Through her activism efforts, she advocates for criminal justice reform, educational reform, improvement in wage disparity and the elimination of gentrification to neighborhoods around the Gainesville community. As a Gainesville resident, Baker is an active part of the Say Yes to Second Chances campaign.

Jeremiah Tattersall is the field director for the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) for the North Central Florida region. Tattersall is currently working with the Alachua County Labor Coalition to raise the minimum wage for workers in Alachua County.

Chad Chavira is a third-year undergraduate student and an organizer for the Dream Defenders, an organization centralized on the ideals to take down systems of oppression within communities today. Chavira led the No Nazis at UF movement, a coalition that led direct action against Richard Spencer speaking at the University of Florida.

Diedre Houchen, the CSRRR postdoctoral associate, moderated the event.

Discussion

Houchen began the discussion by asking the panel to describe how their life’s work contributed to their performance as activists.

The panelists provided a brief description of their individual experiences as advocates, highlighting how they were involved within the civil rights community.

“While living in the ‘Jim Crow’ Memphis, Tennessee, I saw the systemic nature of racism as well as the systemic oppressive economic injustices,” Simmons said. “My goal became ending the systemic racism and oppression that had ensnared my people, from the beginning of our sojourn of enslaved people, up until my time of becoming a young adult.”

Chavira said his very segregated town of Apopka, Florida, allowed him to look at politics from the views of a system as opposed to an individualistic view.

“I had to investigate why poor people were poor,” he said.

The Advocacy in Action Panel was held in the Usler Hall Atrium. “As you educate about what institutional racism is and how to end it, we not only chip away at it piece by piece, but we build up our organizational potential to do even bigger tasks,” Tattersall said.

Houchen then continued, “Somewhere in your childhood, there was some experience that helped you to become an activist in your adulthood. As an activist, how do you spark some kind of transformational experience in youth similar to ones you’ve had, particularly in those who don’t feel that these issues matter to them or don’t affect them?”

Baker said she advocates for a “why” approach to understand the perspectives of others, using this to direct them to advocate for what they are passionate about.

“I listen first,” Baker said, “then I ask questions.”

Houchens then asked the panel to share what issues in today’s society they find most pressing. They mentioned local gentrification in Gainesville and education and wealth inequality.

“As a panel with diverse and differing thought processes, how do you make actionable items for people who have different solutions on how to solve similar issues?” a member of the audience asked.

The panel, in agreeance, said that although each of them may have had a different way or solution to dealing with an issue, activism takes place in many small parts under a single collective goal – where each activist plays to his or her own strengths.

 

 

Mitul Brahmbhatt is currently a 1L at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. Graduating from the University of South Florida in 2017, he received his Bachelor of Science in finance and his Bachelor of Arts in English. He currently does volunteer work as a regional core team member of BAPS, an international socio-religious organization. He likes Piña coladas, getting caught in the rain, isn’t into yoga, and has half-a-brain.