Understanding the past to change the future

Frances Berry, Nash visit UB, change my perspective

The Spectrum

Wednesday night, I had the opportunity to photograph Mary Frances Berry and Diane Nash, who came to UB as part of the Distinguished Speakers Series. Before the event, I met and photographed them while Spectrum editor Sam Fernando conducted an interview.

To be entirely honest, I did not know anything about the two women going into the interview. All I knew was that Berry and Nash played pivotal roles in the Civil Rights Movement.

During the interview, I started to sense just how important these two women are - not just to American history, but to world history. Berry and Nash both worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and multiple U.S. presidents. Nash was so close to King that she and her former husband went on a "double date" with him and his wife in the Bahamas.

I was honoredto be sitting in the same room as these two influential women. How many people alive today can actually say they knew King well enough to share dinner with him? For me, it was difficult to comprehend.

As I was walking out of the Center For the Arts after they spoke, I had a conversation with Sam. We talked about how, today, we do not see King as an actual living human being. We see him as the world-changing, iconic figure who lost his life while fighting for civil rights - not as a man who enjoyed his dinner with close friends.

Berry and Nash both gave thought-provoking speeches, but what captivated me the most happened during their question-and-answer session.

"Today, we no longer have a government of the people, by the people and for the people," Nash said in response to a question that moderator Athena Mutua, a law professor, posed. "We have a government of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations."

Many in the auditorium clapped and cheered; it showed that Nash's statement was felt throughout the room.

We can see the issue of corporations taking control of industries throughout America. I notice that many of my peers, myself included, are not as informed as we should be about the problem. And I think many just don't care.

Money is what runs America. In Washington, D.C., there are lobbyists offering members of Congress monetary incentives to back their companies. Many times, whichever company is willing to pay the most wins in America.

The most upsetting part of the evening was that, while Nash was explaining her statement, a good percentage of the crowd was on their cellphones. Some even got up and left as the speakers were talking.

Nash was right when she said Americans don't feel like they have the power to create large-scale changes - she adamantly believes we do have that power.

I feel it goes deeper than that. I think we don't care anymore, which is telling in the fact that a number of people in the crowd were distracted by their tiny glowing screens.

It is one thing to have your phone out in the presence of an entertainer, but it is disrespectful and classless to treat two vital figures the way some audience members did.

Back in the 1960s, people like Nash and Berry truly believed in the cause they were fighting for - some were jailed and some even lost their lives. Nash and Berry were two of hundreds of thousands of faces in the crowd fighting peacefully during the Civil Rights Movement.

Nowadays, Americans still believe in these causes, but the effort is not there for many of us. Sure, we are all for the support of many causes. But it is only when we come together and actually do something for a cause that we will actually see change.

Nash said that we cannot expect legislators to impart change. In order to have an impact, the public must spark the transformation.

Having to put physical and mental effort into a challenge can be very taxing. If supporting something in the world only involved tweeting our opinions, we would accomplish a lot. But, unfortunately for most of us, it doesn't.

A lot more is required to accomplish anything in civil rights. That is why the gay rights movement has been extremely successful in the past couple decades. Berry even said she did not think the gay rights movement would have taken off as rapidly as it has if it weren't for people mobilizing. Lawmakers may create legislation, but social change is what leads to legal change.

In order to accomplish anything you truly believe in, you must use all of your effort. Social media is a great way for people to interact and share ideas, but it cannot achieve everything.

The only way to see actual change is for people to not only care about the issues that plague society, but to start acting on them.

email: chad.cooper@ubspectrum.com