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Justice Demands Economic Opportunity: Reflections on our visit to the National Center for Civil & Human Rights

This past August marked the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. While the 1963 event may be best remembered for Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, organizers of the march elevated economic concerns alongside those of ending segregation and demanding equal protection under the law. Calling to resolve the crisis of the “twin evils of racism and economic deprivation,” organizers published a list of 10 demands – half of which were directly related to economic development: decent housing, adequate and integrated education, job training and placement, decent wages, and fair labor standards and employment practices.

We were reminded about how relevant these economic issues remain today following our staff visit to the National Center for Civil & Human Rights in Atlanta during Fourth Economy’s bi-annual retreat there. The Center’s exhibitions feature the papers and artifacts of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the history of the civil rights movement in the United States, and stories from the struggle for human rights around the world today. As a staff, we were inspired by the exhibits and conversations generated during our visit to the National Center for Civil & Human Rights, and wanted to share some reflections:

  • As someone who grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood in the Bronx, NY, participated in the tradition of black history month civic engagement and historical learning annually, and read countless stories and narratives connected to the history of the struggle for racial justice in the U.S., I thought I had a good understanding of Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy and the ins and outs of the Civil Rights Movement. After visiting the National Center for Civil & Human Rights, and spending time up close with each person and story from that era, especially those of lesser historical renown, I came away with a different appreciation for the lessons from that time. I often look back on the 1950s and 60s and think of the civil rights champions, as heroes, as titans of history - but looking closer with a human eye, I saw they were exactly that - human. Humans with fears, humans who made mistakes, humans who kept trying the best they could for what they, and history, believed was right. It was the everyday, ordinary people, whose names aren’t underlined in history books, who put their time, treasure, and bodies on the line in service of racial and economic justice, each in their own small way - who stayed with me during my time in the museum and well after I exited the front doors. It turns out the most powerful lesson I was reminded of that day was a simple one and one that I’m glad I’m taking with me. - Oshane Mcrae, Consultant

  • Visiting the National Center for Civil & Human Rights, I was struck by how the overlooked details and multiple voices in the civil rights movement are vital to understanding its impact on economic development and inclusion. The personal stories of Ruby Bridges, who faced immense challenges in desegregating schools, and Claudette Colvin's early defiance against bus segregation, reveal the human cost of the fight for justice. These narratives shed light on the courage and resilience required to confront systemic inequalities, underscoring the importance of amplifying diverse experiences and perspectives. Recognizing and elevating these varied voices within communities is crucial for fostering economic development and inclusion. By integrating these once-overlooked stories into the larger narrative, we can better understand the complexities of social movements and their impact on creating equitable economic opportunities for all. This approach highlights the need to embrace multiple narratives to drive meaningful change and build a more inclusive future. - Sally J. Guzik, Vice President

  • I found our visit to the National Center for Civil & Human Rights to be deeply moving and intensely valuable from both a personal and professional perspective. As a student of history, I’ve long sought out information about the civil rights movement in America and am very interested in the ways in which racial and economic justice are deeply entwined in our society. Visiting the Center reminded me of the gaps that persist in my knowledge and understanding, and the need to fill those gaps to fully rectify economic inequality and systemic injustice. It was inspiring to be immersed in the journeys and struggles of key leaders and, most of all, everyday participants in the movement. I’m excited to be a part of building a more equitable and inclusive future through some of the work that we do and will bring the context from the Center with me. - Anne Jensen, Consultant

As we celebrate Black History Month and advance racial equity across all of our work at Fourth Economy, we continue to reflect on the work ahead to repair our economic divide. To that end, we’ve partnered with the National Center for Civil & Human Rights to walk us through a series of workshops to advance staff training, learning, and development, and elevate our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) practice. We look forward to sharing more in the months to come.


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