The Selma Solidarity March:  Ordinary People Marching to Unite for What’s Right”

By Charles H. Winfrey

As advocates for civil and human rights, including President Barack Obama; Democratic Representative John Lewis, an original member of the Selma to Montgomery march 50 years ago; former president George W. Bush; Rev. Al Sharpton; and many other celebrities and dignitaries, reenacted the march across the Edmund Pettus bridge, leading from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, conducted by civil rights workers  decades ago, determined to secure the right to vote; approximately 500 local Flint area activists conducted a simultaneous, symbolic march from the Saginaw Street Bridge to the Genesee County Courthouse to commemorate what has gone down in history as “Bloody Sunday.”

The local Selma Solidarity March was the brainchild of Rev. Dr. Claudine “Deane” Oliva, Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Flint.  “I wanted to do something to see Flint solidified for justice,” Dr. Oliva said.  “I was in Ferguson (Missouri), but we did nothing in this area.  And as more incidents occurred around the country, the people of Flint remained silent.  I felt this would be a good first step to awaken our people and give them a cause to solidify around.”

Dr. Oliva reached out to a number of area pastors to assist her in organizing the march, including fellow member of Michigan Faith in Action (formerly FACT), Pastor Ira Edwards of Damascus Holy Life Baptist Church.  Pastor Edwards took the ball and carried it like he was, indeed, a former quarterback.  He too, felt it was a good first step.  “It was good to see the people of Flint come together despite the racial, religious and other barriers that tend to keep us apart,” Edwards said.  “This march demonstrated we can bring people together without shouting at each other.  We still have serious issues to deal with—safety, water, self-governance—but I feel confident these issues will be dealt with by the people who showed up.”

The highlight of the event, however, was the stirring keynote address delivered by Rev. Dr. Kim Yarber, Pastor of Mt. Hermon Baptist Church.  Yarber reminded the audience the participants in the historic Selma to Montgomery march in 1965 were ‘Ordinary People.’  “600 courageous but ordinary people marched for the right to vote,” Yarber said. “These 600 people were met by state troopers and local police.  There were too many on the bridge to turn around and go back, but even as they tried to do so, the troopers advanced upon them.  They were beaten, whipped, bloodied, and brutalized.”

Today, Yarber stated, we can march and demonstrate without fear of the police attacking us, but today we have a new enemy. “Our new adversaries are not state troopers, but those among us who are indifferent,” Yarber added. “What ails us today is there are too many of us who won’t take the time to vote during elections.  We have too many who are committing political suicide by failing to vote.  But what they are doing in reality is showing a lack of gratitude to those who were beaten, bloodied and brutalized to obtain the right to vote.

“As a result,” he continued,” we have no voice in what happens in our community.  Those who do not vote affect themselves and their children.  They are those who have allowed politicians to strip them of their rights.  Indifference has taken away our right to speak for ourselves, so we have no voice to speak for ourselves.   We’re policed by police who don’t live in our community and don’t have a stake in our community.  Flint’s water rates are 2 or 3 times higher than any other place in the state.  By refusing to vote, we give ammunition to powers who continue to look for ways to tax us without improving our schools, without improving our water supply, without improving our quality of life.”

In a press statement prior to the march, Dr. Oliva stated:  “(with this march) we will come out of our silos and proclaim:  “Unite for what’s right!”

The struggle continues….