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Commentary: Marching with Jesse Jackson
Posted By Staff On September 23, 2009 @ 6:01 am In Online Exclusives | No Comments
• A first-time marcher’s account
By Lisa Palmeno
I grew up during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and watched it all on television. Rockford seemed a long way from Washington, D.C., New York City and everywhere else marches and activists were hanging out. The newscasts, the discussions, the role models, they all had an impact on me, and I hoped that someday I would be able to march with Jesse Jackson. On Saturday, Sept. 12, I got the chance to do so, right in Rockford.
The Rev. Jackson arrived in Rockford to support the Barmore family whose son, Mark Anthony, perished during a controversial altercation with the police in a local church, House of Grace, in downtown Rockford. Since Jackson’s arrival, NPR reported that local citizens and the Barmore family will get what they asked for: an independent investigation of the events that led to Barmore’s death. NPR’s WNIJ 89.5 announced at 8:28 p.m. on Sept. 12 that the Illinois State Police will investigate the matter rather than leaving it in the hands of the local police force.
During the civil rights leader’s visit, citizens told Jackson about the unemployment and economic struggles the city has faced since the manufacturing industry took a nosedive back when the information age forced the envelope on the area’s future. Many issues have come to the fore, most of them economic.
A “Group of Concerned Citizens” was the name given to those of us who showed up in front of Ellis Arts Academy, a school built during the lawsuit era of the Rockford School District. It’s a school where I have worked as a substitute teacher many times in many capacities. As I stepped into the crowd, who were patiently awaiting the Rev. Jackson’s arrival, local ministers, leaders and activists stepped up to the microphone to talk about positive change in the community.
Signs carried the messages, “Fight Poverty, Not Each Other,” “We Need Jobs,” “Rockford Needs a Stimulus,” and “Where is our Bailout?” However, there were specific points that everyone was marching for, and they were listed on the backs of the shirts of many there that day.
Number one was support and prayers for Mark Anthony Barmore and his family; second was support for the House of Grace, where the incident occurred; Church School, which is slated for a senior citizen facility rather than its current use as a school was the third cause; fourth, Lewis Lemon Library faces closure; and fifth, Bourbon Street, the club at Main and Auburn first restricted as a nightclub and now apparently in the way of plans for a new street routing, which will be the third street project in seven years in that business community. Of course, the healthcare issue was heavily in the mix.
I knew many of the people in the crowd, including Georgeanne Duckett, who published The Vital Force, a minority newspaper back in the 1980s and 1990s. It was Georgeanne who gave me my first writing job out of college, and she was instrumental in helping to set up the march.
A young writer from Rockford stood and told how she has finished her fourth book and encouraged others to follow their dreams of being successful. Alderman Linda McNeeley encouraged people to “choose church over TV” on Sundays.
Ministers of all faiths and races arrived to lead the prayer that began the march and the one that would be at the end of the march from Ellis Arts Academy on Central Avenue to the House of Grace. The crowd held their hands up together and sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand),” and “God Bless America.”
Before Jackson arrived, along with the CEO and President of the NAACP, Ben Jealous, Duckett gave instructions about the march. “Marshals,” who are professional march organizers, would be placed along the way to keep us in formation and see how we did as marchers. First would be the Rev. Jackson and Jealous, followed by the clergy, then organized labor and the elected officials, starting with State Rep. Chuck Jefferson (D-Rockford).whom I didn’t see, but they said he was coming.
After that, we turned and walked toward the street that had been marked off just for us for that afternoon, and marshals helped us form into rows of six marchers spaced 10 feet apart so all signs could be seen. After the mass of marchers were the Harley riders and then the children and the elderly.
It was a hot day, and all had to hold out for restrooms and water, but no one complained. The march was to be a silent one, for effect. No talking, goofing off, phone calls, texting, eating, drinking, or passing out literature were allowed, and definitely no talking to the media. That is why this article has no quotes, and some names are missing.
Safely in my row, I walked as far as the Justice Center, where I thought the march was ending and my ride home was waiting. Those left in my row quietly wished me well as I departed the line, and they went on to the church and the bands, food and media crews that were awaiting them.
An underlying theme was expressed during the testimonials; Westsiders are weary of the “dividing river,” the river that has for more than a century separated the perceived haves and the have-nots. The march was symbolic in bridging that gap, with all races joining together that day to make a statement and, it is hoped, effect positive change.
For me, it was a day I will always remember, the day I marched with Jesse Jackson.
From the September 23-29, 2009 issue
Article printed from The Rock River Times: http://rockrivertimes.com
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