In April 2012 I sat in an auditorium of about 500 people waiting to hear civil rights activist Julian Bond speak to us from his vast experience as a champion for civil rights, human rights, equality and justice. I was in awe as I glanced over the audience to find myself surrounded by such a magnificently diverse crowd. It was also surreal to discover that seated right next to me was Ramona Africa, and that sprinkled throughout were people who were at one time, members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which was known for powerful sit-in and freedom ride activism in the 1960’s. I felt surrounded by radiant power.
We all watched in anticipation as Mr. Bond walked to the podium with a relaxed stroll. He spoke passionately about his early days of participation in the civil rights movement, he told really funny jokes, he entertained emotional, heartfelt, audience questions about racism and he also spoke about the current climate of social change. Yasmein James, a reporter from newsworks.org, appropriately summed up Mr. Bond’s speech in this one quote:
“For a couple of hundred years, black people have lifted themselves from slavery to freedom and many changes have occurred in our lives, but there are still barriers to our full participation in American society and we need to continue the struggle so we can get rid of those barriers too.” ~Julian Bond
As we mourn this social justice warrior, I have been thinking about the barriers that still exist in our country and how to continue the legacy of Julian Bond. I mused on his life and realized while there are surely hundreds of things that could be described here, I would like to highlight 5 Things Generation Z and Millennials Can Learn From the Life of Julian Bond:
Students can be powerful leaders. As a college student Julian Bond was one of the founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He also founded a literary magazine called The Pegasus. For him, being active and involved as a student created a natural transition to other meaningful endeavors. For instance, he went on to found the Southern Poverty Law Center, and to become the chairman of the NAACP at a crucial time in its history. What sparks you? Getting involved with the meaningful things in life, the things that matter most, can be the jump-start you need for a lifetime of great impact!
It’s okay to speak up for what you believe in. Julian Bond was known as a vocal critic of the Vietnam War. While this caused a stir for some, and even unfairly delayed his elected position on the Georgia House of Representatives, The Supreme Court was on his side and he was sworn in to the House of Representatives in January of 1967. You may not always get what you want, exactly when you want it, but giving expression to your well thought out ideas may help others appreciate a perspective they previously viewed differently. And this could potentially reverse the trend of history.
Be an advocate for others. Julian Bond is not only praised as a person who advocated for African Americans, but for all. Many of his contemporaries speak of him as a supporter of everyone who experienced oppression and discrimination. Promoting what is fair and equitable and looking to the well-being of others is honorable.
Be approachable. While he had many remarkable accomplishments and was well-known, Mr. Bond did not see himself as a superstar. Acquaintances often remark that his phone number was always listed and that he would always answer his phone. If he couldn’t answer, he would definitely give a call back. Being unfriendly and only associating with members of your own clique alienates people – potential friends and supporters. When you’re cordial and easy to talk to, it’s easy to leave a positive impact on the lives of others.
Listen to wise people. When Julian Bond was a youth his parents often had friends over to visit their home. Friends like W.E.B. Dubois, noted sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, author and editor were usual guests. And also people like Paul Robeson, who was a famous singer and actor but also, became involved in the civil rights movement. Hearing the conversations of these civil rights pioneers was surely a stimulus for the activism that became Julian Bond’s life. Pay attention to the sage wisdom of discerning people when you find yourself in their company. The picture above is Julian Bond sitting with others listening to Martin Luther King.