Ashley Mann grew up in Birmingham, Alabama and completed her undergraduate studies at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. This year she served as an AmeriCorps member in the YWCA’s Social Justice department. She will attend law school in the fall at New England Law in Boston.
Local bookstore Jim Reed Books has recently gathered civil rights memorabilia to honor the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement. Because as a Social Justice AmeriCorps member I strive to create an environment that is just and fair, I felt it was important to research the materials of a significant time that serve as a driving force for what I do each day.
As I walked into the bookstore, I was overwhelmed by the vast number of books in such a tiny space. I did not know where to begin. Just as I was marveling aimlessly, I was greeted by owner Jim Reed who served as my guide. He first showed me carefully preserved newspaper articles written by Emory Jackson, a relatively unknown civil rights leader. Jackson served a key role in reporting about the movement from an African-American perspective.
For nearly two hours, I looked through dozens of newspaper clippings, magazine articles, photographs and books all stemming from the ‘50s and ‘60s. Looking through these materials, I was reminded of the stories that I heard growing up about my grandparents, aunts and uncles who participated in marches and sit-ins. So young, yet so determined, these foot soldiers served as a catalyst for social justice and change.
This experience in the bookstore allowed me to have respect for and reflect on not only the history of civil rights, but also why my service as an AmeriCorps member in the YW Social Justice department is vital to my community. During my service, I have been able to conduct Heritage Panels in various schools to educate students on ways they can strive to eliminate racism, bullying, sexism and classism in their schools and communities.
Throughout my service at the YW, I have learned that social justice education is key in addressing stereotypes. If people are not educated on social justice topics, then ignorance persists. I have learned that no matter how painful the history and no matter how much I loathe it, I must study that history in order to discover the core issue of racism and other systems of prejudice is. Only then will I know how I can do my part to make sure that it does not persist.
Change never comes without fight and commitment. I may not be able to immediately change someone’s heart or belief system, but through the tools that I have gained through my service, I can teach them how to respect others.
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