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  • Kristina Riffle Semukete

Civil Rights Quotes: A Reminder of What We Can Achieve

“If we learn from our past, our future will be bright” (Anonymous).


The Oxford Dictionary defines civil rights as “the rights of citizens to political and social freedom and equality.” In this current civil unrest, I would add the right to protest and fight police brutality, in the black and brown communities.


“There was one of two things I had a right to: liberty or death. If I could not have one, I would take the other, for no man should take me alive.” Harriet Tubman used these words “liberty or death” as a literal reference and inspiration for Patrick Henry’s speech to the 2nd Virginia Convention in 1775. Harriet Tubman escorted and freed over 300 slaves on 19 separate missions.  If Harriet Tubman was alive today, she would lead marches with the Black Lives Matter groups and spearhead the fight against police brutality.


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. advocated “We want all of our rights, we want them here, and we want them now;” and, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Dr. King’s words ring true today. Open a newspaper, turn on the news, or witness it for yourself; progressive leaders use “injustice anywhere…” as a battle cry for racial and police reform. 


“They came toward us beating us with nightsticks, bullwhips, trampling us with horses, releasing the teargas” and “I was hit in the head by a State Trooper with a nightstick. I thought I saw death. I thought I was going to die,” are tweets from US Representative John Lewis (D), Georgia. Representative John Lewis recalled the peaceful march in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965 demanding voting rights for black Americans; the march became known as Bloody Sunday. Representative Lewis was savagely beaten by the State Police and spent three days in a hospital with a fractured skull. It appears that not much has changed in today’s world, except the police are starting to be held accountable for the beating and killing of Black Americans. Fast forward to May 2020; four police officers killed an unarmed George Floyd while making an arrest. George Floyd allegedly used a fake 20-dollar bill to buy cigarettes. The police knelled on George Floyd’s neck, torso, and legs; George Floyd begged the cops with “I can’t breathe,” and pleaded to see his mother. Eight minutes and 43 seconds later, George Floyd died. All four police officers are currently charged and awaiting a trial for the murder of George Floyd. 


President John F. Kennedy said, “The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities; whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated.”  Has anything changed since President Kennedy’s assassination? Breonna Taylor wished she had lived with equal rights; Breonna was asleep when police served a “no knock” warrant on her residence. She was unarmed and was shot and killed by Louisville Police. 


“It doesn't matter how strong your opinions are. If you don't use your power for positive change, you are, indeed, part of the problem.” This quote by Coretta Scott King illustrates some of the issues highlighted in today’s political nightmare. The antithesis of positive change is a correct definition of our current administration, “Dividing the United States” and “a threat to the US Constitution,’ is how former Secretary of Defense and General James Mattis described the President. I challenge all people to affect positive change through voting and protesting.

Reverend Jesse Jackson said, ”From seeds of his body blossomed the flower that liberated a people and touched the soul of a nation.” In 2014, an unarmed Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri was shot and killed for walking down the middle of a road. The killing of Michael Brown ignited the Black Lives Matter movement and it spread across America like Kudzu in Alabama--fast and furious.


“We’re not anti-police…we’re anti-police brutality.” Reverend Al Sharpton uses this phrase when he consoles family members, addresses the community, and speaks to all of America concerning civil rights and police brutality.


What will you do to affect change in America?



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