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Virtual event explores civil rights movement’s past, future

Kirwan Institute kicks off Spring 2022 Biweekly Forum Series

Coinciding with the start of Black History Month, The Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity hosted a Feb. 3 virtual presentation highlighting the civil rights strides that society has made in the past several decades and the work that is yet to be done.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries“When we think about civil rights goals, we often think about somebody like Jackie Robinson and him breaking into the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1945 and breaking the color barrier, de-segregating or integrating major league sports. … That is the beginning of something,” said Hasan Kwame Jeffries, associate professor of history at Ohio State. “It’s not the end.”

Jeffries’ presentation, “No Struggle, No Progress: Social Justice Organizing in the 21st Century,” kicked off the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity’s Spring 2022 Biweekly Forum Series. The online forums are free to attend and begin at 11 a.m. every other Thursday.

The movements led by Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr. centered on basic human rights, transcending the push for the abolition of slavery in the 1800s and the struggle for civil rights in the 1950s and 60s, Jeffries said.

“There’s nothing in the Constitution that says anything about housing, nothing in the Constitution that says anything about healthcare, but these were also fundamental goals of movement activists. And that human rights component sadly gets lost when we only talk about civil rights,” he said. “It’s really important not only to reframe and rethink what it is that Black folks were fighting for, but to think about it in broader terminology.” 

Human rights movements consist of both mobilizing and organizing strategies, Jeffries said. Mobilizing often takes the form of high-profile events such as the 1963 March on Washington and the social justice protests that occurred throughout the summer of 2020. Organizing involves long-term strategies that seldom make headlines, such as civil rights activists’ grassroots outreach efforts, he said.

“What they were doing was knocking on doors, they were canvassing, they were holding mass meetings,” he said. “They were talking to people, asking them what they wanted and what did they need, and seeing how they can connect what (citizens) articulated as their needs and wants with the resources and expertise that they were able to bring to the table as organizers.”

Rather than a specific goal, human rights movements encompass a broad spectrum of issues that affect communities’ overall quality of life, Jeffries said.

“The Kirwan Institute has done some wonderful work with this issue of life expectancy,” he said. “For a person born in the ZIP code that is the Near East Side (of Columbus), which means that this person is likely African American, why is their life expectancy 61 to 64 years? While a person born or living just 10 miles away in Upper Arlington, which is 95% white, why is their life expectancy 81 to 85? It’s a 20-year difference.”

The stark contrast in the life expectancy of residents living in neighboring communities illustrates the inequities that human rights movements past and present have attempted to remedy, Jeffries said.

“It has everything to do, not with just that moment in which you’re tabulating statistics, but this longer history of the way in which we have segregated resources,” he said, “the way in which we have limited resources and access to the things that a person needs in life in order to live a full, healthy and long life.”

Registration and more information for upcoming forums

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