Fifty years after Martin Luther King Jr. led the country toward racial and economic equality in the March on Washington, the Black Student Assembly will hold the March on Trousdale today to illuminate the present-day progress that needs to be made.
Lamar Gary, the executive director of the Black Student Assembly, believes the march will be a meaningful moment for all students on campus.
“The March on Trousdale is supposed to bring to light the March on Washington and what it meant to the community,” Gary said. “We’re focusing on the present and the future.”
The march, which will begin at the Gavin Herbert Plaza and conclude in front of Tommy Trojan, aims to bring awareness to issues concerning the black student population and other cultural centers on campus. The full version of King’s “I Have A Dream” speech will also be played.
The march is part of BSA’s Black History Month initiatives. Black Student Assembly leaders hope it will add to the history of black students on campus by amplifying the voice of those students on campus.
“We’re looking at people in the past to empower us to be the creators of change,” Gary said, “and educate people who have no clue about our history beyond what they were taught in elementary or high school.”
This past month, the BSA held events to build close ties among the black student population. In conjunction with the African-Americans in Health, the organization held a blood drive on Thursday. The BSA also launched a video series of students recalling their most memorable moments related to black history and screened The Central Park Five, a documentary that examined the 1989 case of five black and Latino teenagers who were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman in Central Park. The BSA also held college fairs and programs on the weekends to bring students from the community this month.
These events are fitting considering the black community at the university has a long history of serving the surrounding community and being politically active.
Somerville, the special interest floor for black students that opened in 1995 in Fluor Tower, was named after the first black student who entered the dentistry school in 1903. John Alexander Somerville and his wife Vada were dedicated to serving the black community both professionally and socially. Rev. Thomas Kilgore Jr., a civil rights leader and longtime pastor of the oldest African-American Baptist church in Los Angeles, founded USC’s Black Alumni Association in 1976. Kilgore also helped organize the historic 1963 March on Washington, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Executive Director of the Black Alumni Association Michele Turner attended USC in the late 1970s and early 1980s. During that time, Turner said the black population at the university was 11 percent. For the incoming class of the fall 2012, black students made up just 4.6 percent of the student body.
Turner believes the bond among black students was stronger when she was a student at USC.
“Because of our solidarity, it didn’t take an initiative to bring us together,” Turner said. “That closeness is something that doesn’t go away. My wish truly is for students today to have those relationships and network because it’s an amazing feeling.”
In 1967, the Black Student Union, the predecessor to the Black Student Assembly, was founded. Its stated mission was to expand the realm of possibilities for black students by making USC more accessible.
“The early BSU did what it had to do whether people agreed with it or not,” Turner said. “Black students on campus were fighting racism on a much bigger degree than people remember. Maybe that’s what progress allows — you don’t have to be at a heightened sense because work has been done.”
Turner noted that during the late 1970s, many student organizations were created by and targeted toward black students. For example, AllUsWe was a publication that focused on issues pertinent to black students and campus life.
As Black History Month has evolved over time, the organizations that serve black students on campus have changed as well. In 1997, the Black Student Services Department was renamed the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs. The department focuses on exposing the university and surrounding community to black culture.
CBCSA director Corliss Bennett-McBride expressed optimism about the progress of the cultural centers and organizations that attend to the needs of the current student body.
“Very progressive leaders are taking the BSA to the next level,” Bennett-McBride said. “The students are starting to get back to that progressive nature.”
Bennett-McBride also noted that though their goals and interests change, the spirit of students largely remains unchanged.
“[The March on Trousdale] is appropriate because of the anniversary of the March on Washington,” Bennett-McBride said. “BSA leadership and students within the organization are back to that hunger for doing something and seeking progression. It’s nice to see that because it was kind of lost for a while.”
Jason Sneed, the assistant director of the BSA, said emphasizing mentorship programs with prospective students and educating USC students will benefit the entire student body.
“I personally feel like I’m around the next era of people who will change history,” Sneed said. “We’re focusing on tomorrow because we’re in a completely different time. We’re not fighting for civil rights anymore, but we’re fighting for a level playing field.”
BSA leaders are optimistic about the march. They believe the message is universal and will bring the Black History Month celebration to a meaningful conclusion.
“We want to acknowledge history, but also focus on the present and future, because that’s what we can change,” Gary said. “We hope people make efforts and take the steps to inspire change — that is the whole goal of Black History Month.”