Roundtables Put Human Rights Front and Center

Josh Griffin, a graduate assistant with the Carter Center’s Human Rights Program, participated in the 2020 March on Washington for racial justice in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Standing at the foot of the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Griffin heard inspiring words from several speakers, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s son Martin III and 12-year-old granddaughter Yolanda Renee King.

“That’s when I knew I had to fight this good fight and get in good trouble,” said Griffin, using a phrase made famous by U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights leader who had died just weeks earlier.

“You know, John Lewis was only 23 when he spoke (at the March on Washington) in 1963,” said Zach Schreiner, a former U.S. Peace Corps volunteer and current social activist. “You come to the realization that it doesn’t matter who you are or how old you are or what your level of education is, or anything like that. … Inaction at a time of injustice is (complicity with) that violence. You are admitting you are OK with that injustice if you sit on the sidelines and don’t do anything. You have got to act. You have to.”

Schreiner and Griffin were discussing the power of “peaceable assembly” as part of a series of online roundtables presented by The Carter Center. Other entries in the series focused on poetry and photography as means of communicating messages on topics such as social justice and climate change.

Schreiner said the 1963 march — during which King Jr. made his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech — wasn’t the culmination of the Civil Rights Movement, “it was only one of the starting conversations about how people of different races can coexist in the United States.” Marches like the ones in 1963 and 2020, as well as the one coming up on Aug. 28 of this year, serve multiple purposes, he said.

“Mass events help validate individuals’ sense that certain incidents or practices or policies aren’t fair and demonstrate to those at home how many people are willing to show up to make this declaration,” he said.

Scheiner and Griffin attended the 2020 march together. Griffin, who is biracial, said, “Much of my existence has been shaped by racism and bigotry. … I refuse to sit down, and I refuse to stay silent, and I refuse to live a passive life.”

At the 2020 march, a long list of names of Black people who had been killed by police was read out to the crowd.

“How many more names will it take you who are watching to get involved?” Griffin asked.

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