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Seventy five years ago, Bayard Rustin helped organize the Journey of Reconciliation. On Saturday, advocates like Anna Bergman want to make sure the Vallejo area learn all the history, even if they can’t hear about it.
Bergman, along with Teddy R. Doresette III of the National Black Deaf Advocates, Roxanne Dummett of the History and Culture of Black American Sign Language (BASL), Robin Washington, director of You Don’t Have to Ride Jim Crow, as well as vocalist Calvin Ellington D’Ville will all be part of the Bayard Rustin Symposium. The event will be live at the Vallejo Naval Historical Museum from 1 to 5 p.m. but also is available to stream at YouTube for rustinsymposium.
A screening of Washington’s film will be shown after the public speakers finish.
On Tuesday, Dorsette said why he’s looking forward to the fourth annual event.
“I am genuinely honored and looking forward to sharing the story of the National Black Deaf Advocates and it’s amazing existence for the Black Deaf community,” Dorsette said. “This community also has shared experiences through our Black brothers and sisters, throughout many years of social injustice only to be continued to be marginalized. We hope that our stories will educate others on what it means to have equitable justice and equitable access to quality of life. Just as Mr. Rustin has paved the way ensuring folks of marginalized communities are heard and included.”
Bergman first became inspired by Rustin around 2005 when she saw the 2003 film, “Brother Outsider” by Nancy D. Kates and Bennett Singer that featured Rustin’s life.
Besides helping organize the Journey of Reconciliation in 1947, Rustin was an African American leader in social movements for civil rights, socialism, nonviolence, and gay rights. He worked with A. Philip Randolph on the March on Washington Movement, in 1941, to press for an end to racial discrimination in employment.
Rustin later organized Freedom Rides, and helped to organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to strengthen Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership and teaching King about nonviolence.
“I was inspired by his creativity and how even though he went through a difficult time and was treated badly, he was still able to work with a lot of people to come together and put the cause ahead of even himself,” Bergman said. “It was my entry into learning more about Black history. From there I learned about so many other people.
“My hope for this event on Saturday is that it encourages people to tell their own stories,” Bergman continued. “My favorite part of this event is hearing from all the participants. I don’t call them the audience, but participants because you can learn from them.”
Bergman has been a strong advocate for ASL and audism, especially at recent Vallejo City Council meetings, where she was urging the council to have someone give sign language so the deaf can be more involved with their city. She is also having a comic book come out soon on the subject of Rustin.
“What I’m all about is what are people doing now?” Bergman said. “I see sign language as a basic civil right everyone should have. When deaf people are excluded so much in the public space it’s not just discrimination, but it’s exclusion.”
At the Saturday event Washington will be sharing his film, “You Don’t Have to Ride Jim Crow” that received critical acclaim and has appeared on PBS. For his film, Washington kept finding survivors of the first freedom rides of the Journey of Reconciliation.
In order to tell their story, he went back to the original sites of some of the rides and documented their new experiences.
Washington also likes to tell the story of Irene Morgan, who was an African American woman from Baltimore, Md., who was arrested in Middlesex County, Va., in 1944 under a state law imposing racial segregation in public facilities and transportation. She was traveling on an interstate bus that operated under federal law and regulations.
Morgan represented in a case by William H. Hastie and Thurgood Marshall, legal counsel of the NAACP. Her case, Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia, was appealed to the United States Supreme Court. In 1946 in a landmark decision, the court ruled that the Virginia law was unconstitutional, as the Commerce clause protected interstate traffic.
“I’m hoping people get at least two things from this symposium on Saturday. One, I hope people realize that the civil rights movement was not something that was gift-wrapped to them,” Washington said. “This wasn’t a Rosa sat down, Martin stood up and everybody was free type event. The second thing I hope they learn is that people like Martin Luther King Jr. had mentors and people he looked up to. Rustin was someone King took his philosophy ideas from. That and I hope people look at the creativity people used back then when protesting. They inspired people to deal with injustice but they found a creative approach to solving problems. They used their brains.
Dorsette had similar thoughts in his hope for what people can take away from the event.
“With sharing stories and experiences, little actions will make a big impact,” Dorsette said. “I hope that the audience will take action towards equitable justice and equitable access that includes EVERYONE.”
Bergman echoed Dorsette’s statements.
“When people leave the symposium I hope there is something they plan on being,” Bergman said. “I hope they watch more stuff, listen to their elders more and document what they say. I want them talking with more people around them. We should never stop learning.”
A gofundme page has been created for the Saturday event called Bayard Rustin Symposium. A previous gofundme page met its $1,000 goal.
The event is ASL interpreted.
This content was originally published here.