Students take on 50th commemorative March on Washington

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It was as if there was some sort of unspoken unifying spirit that inhabited each person that day. No matter your skin color, where you came from, your background or exactly what you were fighting for, we were all there for one thing. Every single attendant of the 50th March on Washington wanted justice.

Four charter buses filled with members of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro and Charlotte-Mecklenburg branches of the NAACP arrived in Washington D.C. on the morning of Aug. 24. As I stepped off one of those buses, I immediately felt a sense of peace. I had never seen any of those faces before, yet they all looked familiar in the sense that they collectively shared the expression of hope.

Every once in awhile, someone in the crowd would yell, “Forward together!” To which everyone in proximity would respond “Not one step back!” Civil rights songs echoed throughout the crowd. I do not believe that there was one person there who was not touched and moved by the unity that was taking place.

It was as if we were all family. I remember a man was walking alone when he stumbled and fell. Immediately a small crowd of people rushed to his side, helped him clean up his scrapes, offered him water, food, hugs and love.

John Lewis was 23 years old on Aug. 28, 1963. He was the youngest to speak at the original “March on Washington.” Fifty years later, he is the only living speaker from that day. “Come and walk in my shoes. Come walk in the shoes of those attacked by police fire dogs, fire hoses and night sticks, arrested and thrown in jail,” he said, speaking to those who had doubted the progress of the last 50 years.

Rev. Al Sharpton, Dominique Sharpton, Martin Luther King III, Jamie Foxx, Oprah Winfrey, Roslyn Brock, and President Barack Obama.

On the same steps that Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech, Obama stated, “economic inequality has left the dream unfulfilled for many.” The president chose to not overly dwell on King, but instead pay tribute to the thousands that marched five decades ago.

“For the men and women who gathered 50 years ago were not there in search of some abstract ideal,” he said. “They were there seeking jobs as well as justice. Not just the absence of oppression but the presence of economic opportunity.”

Standing there alongside the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool, one face in the midst of thousands, I felt important. Standing there listening to such distinguished guests and speakers, I felt empowered. I was standing on the same grounds that many had marched on 50 years ago. It was there that I regained sight of my purpose in life. Our country has come a long way, but it has double if not triple that far to go. There is so much work to be done, and so many lives to be touched. I am one person, but my mission is to reach as many as I can, so that they in turn will pay it forward.

Forward together, not one step back.

  • Laci Ollison