Civil Rights and the Young People’s Project: One Girl’s Trip to the SNNC 50th Anniversary Conference

By Deamonte Tibbs-Petty,
The Young People’s Project

The Young People’s Project is a non-profit group dedicated to raising math literacy and working for social change. Their mission is to change the quality of mathematics education for children. As part of that group, I traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina, in April for the SNNC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) 50th Anniversary Conference. More than 1,100 people attended the conference, which was both a celebration and a documentation of those who fought for social change in 1960.

I learned about so many inspiring people in the civil rights movement, and saw what they have achieved by fighting against racism and fighting for equality. One powerful woman I learned about was Ella Baker, an activist and civil rights organizer who was a strong leader and speaker for her community. To me, she is the definition of a role model because she stood up to oppression and fought for equal rights for the black community. Baker once said, “Strong people don’t need strong leaders.” This quote stuck with me because it reminds me that we all have enough willpower to lead ourselves.

At first I didn’t understand what SNCC had to do with YPP, until our College Math Literacy Workers explained to us that Bob Moses was in the civil rights movement and the actions he took to get his daughter to learn math are the reason we now have the Algebra Project and YPP. We were very lucky to be able to hear the SNCC stories. I appreciate what Bob Moses and SNCC have done because if it wasn’t for them taking brutal beatings and disrespect to come together and march for what’s right, my high school wouldn’t have the diversity and love it has today. No one is being judged or discriminated against because of the color of their skin. We are all treated like human beings, and to me that is love.

Besides going to workshops at Shaw University to listen to the activists, we also met other YPP coordinators and staff from places like Jackson, Mississippi and Chicago. Meeting students from all the YPP sites was a good experience for me because I got to see that we all want to make a change in our communities.

At one workshop, we did an activity called “Neighbor Circle.” We formed groups and got to know each other like neighbors. We had to pick a major problem that happens in our community and talk about how our group would work together to fix it. Many of us found we share the same ideas when it comes to wanting school to provide extra help, clubs, and money for those who need it. We felt that the way math is being taught makes it difficult for kids to learn, whether because of bad supplies or the scarce amount of teachers.

I feel like I have grown from this trip. I now understand that if you want to make changes for the better, you have to stand up for your beliefs. My ancestors’ fight against struggles and abuse make the world a better place today. I learned that you can make a change without using violence. The civil rights leaders were the role models and leaders of that time and now they are passing down knowledge so we can be role models for kids in the generations to come. Everyone in YPP has high hopes and dreams that students will become powerful adults who will make a difference.

View photos from the SNCC 50th Anniversary Conference.

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