The Berkshire County Branch of the NAACP and Berkshire Community College are holding an event this week to highlight local residents’ experiences with identity, inequality, and activism.
Wednesday, Berkshire County will have an opportunity to explore the resonance of the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s, and ask some crucial questions about its impact today.
“Do we have one right now again? Do we need one again? Or did it ever stop?” asked Toni Buckley. She's the Director of Alumni Relations at Berkshire Community College. She first conceived of “Civil Rights Movement – Then and Now” in 2018, and developed it with the support and guidance of the local NAACP chapter and other community leaders. In addition to workshops and presentations, attendees will have a chance to participate in an interactive exhibit.
“We will then have a few community members come and tell their stories in the human library," Buckley told WAMC. "They will be living books. You can read an introduction to their stories and then sit down with them and hear their full stories, ask questions, and hear more about their experience.”
“For me, I think what’s really important right now is really about getting the knowledge and the stories out there, but also having people having an opportunity to have a safe space," said Leah Reed, the Vice President of the NAACP Berkshire County Chapter. She says two years into the presidency of Donald Trump, this kind of event is particularly important.
“Right now we don’t really have – people of color or disenfranchised community – we don’t really have a safe space," she said. "And I think that stems from people that feel a little more empowered now to say some of the more inflammatory, inciteful language that they probably wouldn’t have before.”
As far as Buckley’s initial questions, Reed says the movement for civil rights has a long way to go.
“We’re still dealing with the bonds and chains and things of racism, but they look a lot different now in our day then say when my father was coming up," she said. "But that doesn’t mean it’s not as painful or hurtful or dangerous – it just looks different.”
Reed says it’s important to engage young people in the conversation.
“A lot of times you have the history of the civil rights movement and you think of the march – and all that is very important – but what we’ve seen in the last two years is a big burst in the movement of young people really coming to the forefront and stepping up, so to speak, to change the conversation," said Reed.
Her son, Spencer-Matthias, will be participating in the human library exhibit. At 8, he’s already experienced the pain of racism.
“First, in kindergarten, somebody in a different class called me a name that I didn’t like,” said Spencer-Matthias.
He’s looking forward to both finding and offering solidarity to others who have dealt with hate.
“So if somebody goes through that experience that I got, I can help them if they’re sad,” he told WAMC.
Asked about the world he’s growing up in, Spencer-Matthias said he was unhappy to see his expectations of life tinged with bigotry – and offered it his own message: “Please stop doing what you’re doing and do the right thing."
“Civil Rights Movement – Then And Now” at the Pittsfield campus of Berkshire Community College kicks off at 2 p.m. Wednesday.