The civil rights movement got its start well over 50 years ago, but the memories of fighting for equality were fresh in the minds of six revolutionaries as they told their stories in the Alumni House Monday evening.
“Memoirs of Black Revolutionaries,” hosted by the Black Action Society, featured a panel of six African-American men from different backgrounds, but with the common connection that they all took part in the fight for racial equality.
The panel included Arnold Perry, a former member of the Black Panther Party and author of “A Fisherman’s Tale,” vice president of Community College of Allegheny County Richard Adams, executive director of the Kingsley Association Malik Bankston, Bruce Barns, who works with urban planning and development for Pittsburgh, executive director of Programming for Pittsburgh Action Against Substance Abuse Sam Thompson and Abdullah Ameen Asad, a grandmaster of martial arts and a Vietnam veteran.
Those who fought for civil and human rights, including the Black Panther Party, represented a positive force for African Americans and for equality, according to Perry.
“The Panthers were about protecting ourselves and trying to get equality in the 1960’s,” Perry said.
Perry said he was part of the young African-American generation trying to find comfort and equality. For example, African-American men fought in all American wars and battles hoping to take a step towards being free, according to Perry.
African-Americans struggled in the 1960s for rights that many presently take for granted, like the right to vote, but Pittsburgh is still dealing with problems. Today Pittsburgh is voted the most livable city in the United States, but according to Perry, it still has the highest poverty level, proving that there is still a struggle for human rights.
“From the 1960s to the present, this proves that we all are still struggling,” Perry explained.
Most of the speakers grew up in Pittsburgh’s Homewood community in the 1960s, according to Bruce Barns. Barns said that in 1965, he was selling Panther pamphlets in downtown Pittsburgh and was in the fight for equality.
Barns instilled the message that he grew out of his community and that no one could exist with out the group.
“There is no such thing as an individual,” Barns said.
Barns said he grew up with his neighborhood and community being part of his family, explaining that he was taught to be independent and to understand that help does not mean have it done for you.
To instill this idea, Barns told the story of wanting a pair of $18 shoes and his father had him raise the money himself. His father told him that he would be more than happy to help once Barns had done everything that he could, according to Barns.
As he closed up his speech Barns gave one last piece of advice to the audience.
“Go and visit the Black in Wax Museum in Baltimore, and it will open you up to see what I am fighting for,” Barns said.
Richard Adams also belonged to the Homewood community and graduated high school in 1969. But before his graduation, in 1968 – the year that rebellions over Dr. Martin Luther King’s murder occurred – the Civil Rights Act was signed and over 3,000 soldiers were killed and wounded in one week during Vietnam, according to Adams.
Adams said he was surrounded in a time where equality needed to be fought for.
“We organized as the United Black Students, took over our high school and over 3,000 students demanded Black history be taught and Black teachers be hired,” Adams explained.
According to Adams, today the
teachers be hired,” Adams explained.
According to Adams, today the Black community is still struggling, especially with unemployment and street violence.
“At this time it is imperative that people not simply commemorate Dr. King but march to renew his original call,” he said.
Adams said he hopes that through a domestic Marshall Plan that the nation is able to rebuild bridges and highways to create a better community, while at the same time putting people back to work.
Abdullah Ameen Asad said he also grew up being raised by his mother, grandmother, great grandmother, and aunts, but also by his community as well.
Asad said he graduated in 1962 from high school and decided to go into the Marine Corps instead of being drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War. While he was in the Marine Corps, he wanted to learn how to protect himself, and that is where he became a black belt in martial arts. Today, he is a master martial artist as a 10th-degree black belt.
“The biggest room in the world is the room for self improvement,” Asad said when it came to martial arts and life.
He said his main goal is that he wants people to be able to take care of themselves, no matter who they are or what they look like, Asad explained.
Today the goal for all human beings as a part of human rights is the ability to start a business and be your own boss, according to Asad.
“You get a job to sustain yourself, but your goal should be to work for yourself,” Asad said.
Malik Banister said he wanted the audience to become dedicated and passionate about human rights. Human rights is the main struggle and should be the goal, and the Black Civil Rights Movement was a part of the main struggle, Banister explained.
“When I was 12 years old, my grandmother gave me a book in 1965 called, ‘The Negro Cowboys,’” Banister said. Banister explained that this book was his grandmother’s way to show that he had a responsibility and obligation to his people and community.
Asad said that despite growing up in different communities, all of the panelists were willing to put themselves on the line in the name of equality for everyone.