The Children's Job

The Children's Job

Student Essay

On May 2nd, 1963, more than a thousand African-American college, elementary, and high school students peacefully walked from the 16th Street Baptist Church to City Hall to protest Segregation. They were met with savagery. More than six hundred students were arrested, but hundreds more replaced them in the protests. They joyously sang hymns and were welcomed by the police with streams of water at a pressure high enough to separate brick from mortar, but they didn’t falter.

The perseverance of these students enraged and bewildered those who believed in segregation. Putting the protesters in jail didn’t waver their determination to end segregation, only fueling it. Martin Luther King Jr. encouraged parents to allow their children to protest, saying in a speech at the church on 16th Street, “Don’t worry about your children; they are going to be alright. Don’t hold them back if they want to go to jail, for they are not only doing a job for themselves, but for all of America and for all of mankind.” They did it for all of America, and America noticed.

Despite not being the end of segregation, the Birmingham Children’s March was a turning point for the Civil Rights Movement; it was led by students who were ready to peacefully protest to end segregation, willing to be put in jail, who endured beatings and ruthless attacks, and who kept coming back in larger numbers. They wouldn’t be ignored.

When I think of a story that brought people together and brought about positive change, I think of the Birmingham Children’s March. Not just because it was a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement, but because it has proven the influence young people have in social-justice movements, even now.

On March 24th, I participated in Milwaukee’s March For Our Lives. To say the experience was overwhelming would be an understatement. Hearing my peers calling for legislators to vote for gun reform was empowering. Young speakers also rallied over an issue Milwaukee is all too familiar with: gun violence in our neighborhoods. Not only did my community and peers put on its own sister march, they also went a step further, or more accurately 105,600 steps forward. They went and created an additional march, a four-day, fifty-mile march from Milwaukee to Janesville to protest in Representative Paul Ryan’s hometown for gun reform. This four-day march was inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s five-day march from Selma to Montgomery.

Seeing my community march not just for gun reform affecting schools, but also for our own community’s specific gun-related issues, was galvanizing for me, inciting me to work to fix my community’s problems. Without those who marched at Birmingham, I know we wouldn’t be able to protest for our rights. I hope for the future that our movements and woes help to incentivize future generations to stand up for their beliefs no matter how young they are, like the Birmingham students did when they walked out of school to march fifty-five years ago.

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