Two civil rights activists, a minority health policy expert and an associate professor spoke on the theme of “Looking Back and Moving Forward: A Celebration of 50 Years of the Civil Rights Movement” at the University of Georgia’s School of Social Work’s 10th annual Parham Policy Day Tuesday.
Graduate students studying social work organized the event with June Gary Hopps, Parham Professor of Family and Children Studies and the event's director.
Hopps’ social welfare policy class opened the event by singing a song titled “What’s Policy Got To Do With It?” The song was a spin-off of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” and featured lyrics about public policy and social justice.
Lonnie C. King Jr. and Roslyn Pope, activists during the civil rights movement, shared their experiences growing up in the segregated South.
King and Pope said they spent time away from Atlanta as young adults, living in environments less plagued by discrimination. King said he joined the Navy for a few years, and Pope said she traveled to Europe and studied piano in Paris while she was a student at Spelman College.
“Returning to Atlanta, as Lonnie mentioned coming back from the service, you know, after having lived as a human being rather than an object of hatred for more than a year, it was almost unbearable,“ Pope said.
King spoke on the importance of overcoming discrimination throughout his life and his role as an activist.
“The law was against us, but because I was a religious person, I knew there was a higher moral law,” King said.
A part of the Atlanta Student Movement and advocates for civil rights of black people, King and Pope served on the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to develop a document known as An Appeal for Human Rights that called for total racial desegregation by nonviolent means in 1960.
Travis Patton, a former project director for National Minority Male Health Project and an adjunct professor of sociology at Morehouse College, then spoke on current public policy’s impact on a variety of issues that King and Pope mentioned.
For example, Patton discussed social issues related to the Affordable Care Act.
“Dr. Martin Luther King called the lack of access to healthcare inhumane,” Patton said.
Patton said we should approach social issues from the bottom up when it comes to public policy.
“We need to be active to force our leaders to do things because making changes are not comfortable,” he said. “It shakes up the status quo. It shakes up the social order.”
After Patton spoke about policies, Tony Lowe, an associate professor in the School of Social Work, talked about Isaiah H. Loftin, a black postmaster in Hogansville who experienced discrimination in the late 19th century.
The speakers held a question and answer session following their talks, and the graduate students from Hobbs’ class sang, “What’s Policy Got To Do With It?” again in closing.
Veronda Baker, a graduate student at the UGA Gwinnett campus studying social work from McDonough, said she thought it was interesting to hear the speakers’ first-hand experiences.
“The speakers actually lived through the civil rights era, and they were pretty much foot soldiers and very instrumental in a lot of the rights that we have today,” Baker said. “It really stuck out to me just the fortitude that they exhibited and that they’re still fighting for some of the same things today despite all of the stuff they did back then.”
More than 75 people attended the event in the Reception Hall of the Tate Student Center from 8:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. to hear the speeches about civil rights issues and public policy.
The event was free and open to the public. Breakfast and lunch were provided for attendees.
Parham Policy Day is an annual event named after Thomas M. “Jim” Parham, a former professor of the School of Social Work and the first commissioner of the Georgia Department of Human Resources under Jimmy Carter, according to a UGA Today press release.