DeBerry urges students to fight for freedom
Step up, protest and work with your neighbors — this is the advice Civil Rights activist Roy DeBerry gave students at the second annual diversity conference on Saturday.
Stepping up to the podium, DeBerry donned a red cap modeled after the “Make America Great Again” hats utilized by the Trump campaign in the 2016 Presidential election. DeBerry’s hat, however, said “Make America White Again.” He recounted a recent story about traveling through the South after the election and overhearing a man say, “‘It is so great to have America controlled by whites again.’”
“I confess, it is not so much about the politician as it is about us, the people who elect the politician,” he said. “This is our collective fault,” he later added.
Trump peddled “snake oil” in the election, and "Americans decided to drink it with the hope of relieving their pain,” he said. “[Trump supporters] are scared, and some of them will hurt you because they’re scared,” he added.
“This is a call for your generation to step up,” he said, recalling his own involvement in the 1960s Civil Rights movement. “Young people, you can affirm and reaffirm the best in America,” he added.
Though he is somewhat optimistic that movements like Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March can effect change, they will only do so if they keep their efforts up, he said. “We have seen this evolution, but the evolution has only been made possible … because of struggle,” he said, later adding, “Freedom is not free.”
DeBerry spoke about being arrested for picketing in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s, saying, “My mother and father had always told me that ‘if you go to jail for something, it better be something great, good.’ And I think it was.”
He also reflected on his own student protest involvement. As one of the leaders of the original Ford Hall takeover in 1969, DeBerry credited the University with not bringing in Waltham or state police. “If they had,” he said, “I might not be standing here today.”
DeBerry concluded his remarks by encouraging students to stand up for their beliefs and work together to effect change. “When you intentionally see the other, and the other is not a stranger but a neighbor and an empowered citizen, you will make America a diverse place,” he said, adding, “[America] is a work in progress guided by a flexible constitution.”
“The extreme and the reactionary [in this election] … have given many progressives a gift,” he said. “The question is, ‘How will you organize, and where?’”
Dean of Students Jamele Adams also spoke at the opening event, touching on the conference’s theme of “come as you are, leave as you become.” He presented slam poetry about activism and inclusion.
Adams asked the attendees to raise their hands if they had ever felt left out, to which the majority affirmed that they had. Next, he asked them to raise their hands if they had enjoyed being left out, receiving no responses. “Now that we know how it feels to be left out, how dare we leave anyone out,” he said. “I believe that we need to be committed to ‘we.’”