20th century Civil Rights movement and 21st century Human Rights movement come together as Fair Food tour lands in Atlanta!

Charles Black, former chairman of the Atlanta student movement and longtime activist for universal human rights, hugs the CIW’s Mercedes Gomez, a remarkable young activist in her own right from Immokalee, following Monday’s Wendy’s protest in Atlanta.  The former and current student leaders engaged in an animated conversation on Mr. Black’s experience studying under Dr. Martin Luther King during the early years of the Civil Rights movement.

4 for Fair Food Tour stops in Atlanta on way to final stop in Gainesville, re-fuels with visit to Atlanta’s Center for Civil and Human Rights, Wendy’s action…

Following a long, overnight drive from Ann Arbor to Atlanta, the sleep-deprived – but indefatigable – tour crew took advantage of some rare downtime to squeeze in a few hours of entertainment and education on Monday, visiting some of Atlanta’s top attractions.  Later, they headed back out into the city’s streets for a late afternoon Wendy’s protest, followed by a wonderful dinner with old friends from the booming capital of the new South.

First up was a special visit to Atlanta’s world famous aquarium, where the tour’s youngest members were awed by tank after tank of wondrous sights:

From there it was time for a picnic lunch – in the decidedly warmer southern air after many days of frigid temperatures in Ohio and Michigan – followed by a two-hour tour of Atlanta’s extraordinary Center for Civil and Human Rights.

We were welcomed there by Emiko Soltis (speaking, below), an old friend of the CIW and the Executive Director of Atlanta’s Freedom University, an exciting program that provides “rigorous college preparation classes, college and scholarship application assistance, and movement leadership training for undocumented students in Georgia.”  

Joined by two Freedom University students who very kindly made themselves available as guides for the large CIW contingent, Emiko welcomed the tour crew to Atlanta and helped lead the workers from Immokalee and their allies through the museum’s three floors packed with historic papers, artifacts of the Civil Rights movement, and interactive exhibits:

No tour stop would be complete without a Wendy’s protest, of course, and so the crew gathered later Monday afternoon at a downtown Wendy’s, where they were met by a large contingent of Atlantans, many of whom have supported the Campaign for Fair Food since its beginnings in the early 2000s.

The protest was as loud as it was colorful, and caught the attention of the thousands of people passing by during the busy rush hour action (and, by the countless honks and smiles and thumbs up, appeared to win the support of a large number of them, as well):

Finally, after a long but reinvigorating day, we closed out our stay with a dinner in the tour’s honor at Atlanta’s Grace United Methodist Church, also known locally as “Grace on Ponce” (the dinner was co-sponsored by United Methodist Global Ministries, which was also well represented at the Wendy’s picket!).  The CIW contingent was welcomed to the church by the Rev. Stacey Rushing (below), who, in her blessing before the meal, asked that “God help all of those in positions of power understand the value of all your children, which cannot be taken away by business practice, and turn their hearts toward the goodness of this work”:

Following the meal, CIW leaders Silvia Perez, Julia de la Cruz, and Gerardo Reyes addressed the crowd with an informative and moving conversation on the progress and hope the Fair Fodo Program has brought to tens of thousands of workers – and promises to bring to millions more in the years ahead.  Here are just a few of the highlights:

Julia:  “This Program is created and designed by farmworkers themselves, by the people who work on a daily basis in the fields.  Where there once were no bathrooms and waters, today, there are, thanks to the program.  Where there once was no respect, today, there is, thanks to the Fair Food Program.  Because today there are consequences, so if any company is not ensuring these rights, there will be consequences.”

Silvia:  “Today, we have seen many changes on Fair Food Program farms.  That is thanks to the corporations who are already participating – but they didn’t come on their own, they came because of the work of students, of people of faith, of people like all of you.”

Gerardo:  “Today, we are expanding this dream.  Together with dairy workers, for example, we were able to implement something they created for their own reality, the Milk with Dignity Program.  In other parts of the world, in Bangladesh for example, workers had confronted life and death situations, and today have also used this model.  It’s something we call Worker-driven Social responsibility.  There is nothing that can get in the way of this hope that has been transmitted from community to community by the ability of workers to transform their own reality.  That’s how we know that Wendy’s will someday come to the table.”

Finally, before closing out the evening’s program by presenting the very newest branch of the ever-expanding Son Jarocho musical family, Pedro Lopez (below) spoke eloquently about a rarely discussed, but significant, phenomenon that has emerged from the CIW’s efforts to transform the agricultural industry over the past two decades: The profound personal transformation that countless people across the country have experienced through their participation in the Fair Food movement.  Pedro shared his own journey of finding his voice, and his commitment, through his participation in the Campaign for Fair Food that dates to the early Taco Bell Boycott days in Santa Ana, California.  It was a deeply moving moment, and one that touched on an experience with which many in the room could identify.

And speaking of finding their voices, the very newest addition to the Son Jarocho family, the Freedom University’s Son de los Sueños (below), wrapped up the evening’s festivities with a spirited rendition of La Bamba:

In summary, the tour crew’s brief but energizing stay in Atlanta was perhaps best captured in the story behind the picture at the top of today’s post.  

In the course of the afternoon’s protest, Mercedes came to learn that Charles Black was one of a handful of students who, nearly 60 years ago, had the great fortune to take a class in philosophy from Dr. Martin Luther King.  The idea that she was in the presence of someone who personally knew, and fought side by side with, Dr. King, was so exciting to Mercedes that she stepped out of the protest and sought out Mr. Black for a conversation on his experience in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.  As it turned out, Mr. Black was not only happy to oblige Mercedes’ request, but was also deeply impressed himself to learn of Mercedes’ own commitment to the CIW’s struggle (she was part of the children’s contingent that supported their parents in last year’s unforgettable Freedom Fast).  

The two leaders — one, a key leader of the most important social movement of the past century, the other, a young and upcoming leader of one of the most important human rights movements of this new century — came together in that moment in Atlanta, and for that moment they were carrying the same torch, across generations, across eras.  But now, though the time to pass that torch is surely still many, many years off, Mr. Black can rest assured that when that time comes, it will be in good hands.  

And, we have a final, special treat from Atlanta:  A BONUS video of a beautiful performance during Monday night’s reflection by one of CIW’s most talented members of the ánimo team, Priscilla Velez, who performed an original song that was co-written by a group of farmworker women during last year’s Freedom Fast.

That’s all from Atlanta.  Check back tomorrow for more as the tour crew reaches their final stop in Gainesville, FL!