Black history inspiring Black futures

Staff Written Featured

By Tia Lynn Ivey

 This year in honor of Black History Month, the Morgan County Citizen will be highlighting the stories of local African-Americans who believe Black History can inspire the future. 

Senior class president, Alex Williams, sees better education as key to better outcomes in the movement toward ‘justice for all’

Over the summer, Alex Williams, a 17-year-old senior at Morgan County High School,  orchestrated the Youth March, a peaceful demonstration through Madison to protest the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man whose death at the hands of police was caught on tape and sparked a nationwide movement for racial equality and criminal justice reform.

“It’s our responsibility to do something about what’s happening in the world. It all affects the future, so we should have a hand in trying to make it better because it’s our future,” said Williams after the Youth March. 

“This is only the beginning. We are only going up from here. There is no more going down and we want to be in the fight to end discrimination and we will be on the right side of history.”

He said it was important for him and other concerned youth to stand in solidarity with people of color across the nation. 

“We organized the march because we wanted people to see that just because we live in a small town that paints itself as perfect and flawless, we will stand up for those who cannot stand for themselves,” said Williams. 

“We organized the march for the countless African-Americans who have been murdered because of the color of their skin and are yet to have justice. We marched because we refuse to go quietly into the night  and simply be OK with how things currently are in the country.” 

The march drew the praise and participation of Madison Mayor Fred Perriman. 

“It really makes you feel good to see our youth be so vibrant and connected to  what’s going on in our world,” said Perriman. 

“It was an honor to walk with this group of young people, who were very respectful and peaceful. They weren’t there to cause trouble, but to have their voices heard. We have to support our youth. As we get older, their mindset is different than ours, so we have to learn to really listen. They are part of our society and community and we want them to be part of it – to welcome them in and encourage them to make it better.”

Williams, who has served as class president for the last three years, is hoping Black History Month will provide an opportunity for his student peers, and the community as a whole, to learn from the past to shape the future for the better. He also hopes all Black people will not just cherish their history, but become Black History. 

“I always grew up with the mentality that I am Black history and that every Black person is Black history,” said Williams. “Black history month is important to me because it gives the school a chance, if they take it, to teach students (who are the future of the world) the importance of Black people. It gives people a chance to see why we celebrate being Black. Although, Black History Month is important, I celebrate being Black 365 days of the year.”

Williams said he believes learning the stories and experiences of Black people in the past can help people today recognize the ongoing repackaged versions of racism. 

“When it comes to Black History, slowly but surely, it makes people more aware of the racial injustice that has happened and keeps happening,” said Williams. 

“Those who don’t know history are bound to repeat it. If people don’t take the time to learn about what happened – civil rights movement, slavery, red-lining, school-to-prison pipeline, and so on, it’s going to come back around.” 

Williams said he has been inspired by Black historical figures who have succeeded despite seemingly insurmountable odds. 

“Learning about the inventors and motivational people who still rose up in spite of all of the negativity can help Black people be proud of who they are and understand how much their ancestors did in order to make a better way for us,” said Williams. 

“There are lessons for literally everyone, not just Black people, to learn from Black history.”  

Some of the figures, past and present, who have inspired Williams personally include the poet, Maya Angelou, Civil Rights activist Malcolm X, actress Viola Davis, tennis superstar Serena Williams, the late Georgia Congressman and Civil Rights icon John Lewis, and Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to be elected to the United States Congress.

“There are so many more who have inspired me as a young African-American male,” said Williams. 

Williams hopes the Morgan County School System will expand its Black History curriculum. 

I hope they get that Black History Month isn’t just about Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, or the Obamas. We learn about the same people every year – and I mean every year,” said Williams. 

“One of the main  purposes of Black History Month is to celebrate both living and dead African-Americans who made a difference in the world. The list of people goes far beyond the ones the school system teaches us about for a day or two.”

Williams is suggesting a cultural studies class be offered at Morgan County High School to create a more nuanced curriculum for students. 

“I would love to see MCHS  offer a cultural studies class. It would help students better understand what real racism is and not the watered-down version we are taught in the history classes. In order to understand racism in the DNA of America, we must first learn and acknowledge who really built America. What better way to do that then offering a cultural studies class?” 

Williams has openly shared his own experiences with racism, recounting how he and his friends have been called the N-word numerous times at school over the years. 

“I want to talk to you about how racism has changed my life,” said Williams at a church vigil this fall addressing racist text messages exchanged between Morgan County High School students. But Williams is determined not to allow racism to make him bitter, but to make him better. “I was mad, but I wasn’t bitter. It didn’t make me hate white people.”

Instead Williams wants to lend his voice to raise awareness surrounding racial justice issues in his own community to bring all people together. Williams is hoping to attend university next year and is considering becoming a Civil Rights lawyer, a criminal justice lawyer, or a mental health therapist. Whichever path Williams chooses, one thing is certain – he remains committed to using his voice and influence in the ongoing movement for racial justice and equality for all. 

“I would really love to see our country live up to its ‘justice for all’ motto – not ‘justice for all except people of color, LGBTG+ members, women, etc.’ Justice for all should mean justice for all.”  

“One of the main  purposes of Black History Month is to celebrate both living and dead African-Americans who made a difference in the world. The list of people goes far beyond the ones the school system teaches us about for a day or two.”

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