Andrew Dys

York County blacks take center stage this week

Ask a guy such as Willie Davis from York, and he will tell you every week is a tough week to be black.

But this week in York County and in Louisiana, where black people from here will stand up and shout, blacks take the stage, front and center. The question is, will all of us, black and white, listen? And maybe learn something?

In justice, economics, education, Davis said, "all of them, the playing field is not level for us."

Davis and two other officers from the Western York County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People are leaving today to drive hundreds of miles to Jena, La., to be part of demonstrations for fairness in the justice system.

Black people from all over the country are headed to Jena to tell the world Thursday that there should be the same justice for blacks as whites. More than 35 people from the Rock Hill, Chester and Lancaster NAACP chapters, on a chartered bus, will leave Wednesday afternoon. Working people taking vacation days or losing pay.

Because it matters.

"If this happened in Rock Hill, we would expect people from around the nation to be here," said Melvin Poole, an officer with the Rock Hill NAACP.

"We must stand for what is right," said Bill Stringfellow, the Chester NAACP president, who chartered the bus. "Injustice cannot stand."

Jesse Jackson kicked off this big week for the people of this county to decide if they will listen to black speakers tell them some things they do not want to hear. It was unpleasant, and brutal, to hear Jackson speak Sunday at Winthrop University about injustice in schools and courts and health care.

Jackson spoke Sunday in front of an audience of mainly young black people who refuse to be labeled as anything but the future of all of us, black and white. The young ladies who organized that speech, all black, changed the world a little bit. They made Rock Hill better.

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama will be in Rock Hill on Thursday at the Freedom Center, the largest black church in this city.

That audience will undoubtedly be black and white. A black candidate will outline his vision for America. A chance for all of us to say, "Great guy," or not.

On Sunday, the Rock Hill branch of the NAACP will hold a meeting in which Rock Hill schools' top brass will tell black leaders and parents what the schools are doing for black children.

It is a week that race will be front and center in York County.

From up Crawford Road -- make no mistake about it, the part of your city where black people live -- to hear Obama will come Clinton Junior College students. They gathered Monday by the white marble stone that says the school was created in 1894 -- the stone doesn't say for the descendants of freed slaves -- and they told me they will not let a chance to be a part of this week's events pass them by.

They are Shanel Culp, 19, who said that in her life here in Rock Hill for 10 years, "I get looked at differently because I am black."

It is Reggie Scott and Jonathan Hart, young black men and students who refuse to be labeled as anything but men. A 21-year-old student named Christionna Graham who said she will be there to see Obama and show people that she is part of all of our futures, too.

Last week, there was in York what police said was a gang fight. It turned to gunshots, and death, in a black neighborhood. Another NAACP officer in York, President Steve Love, who is heading to Jena with Davis, is working with York school officials, police and politicians to set up a meeting for this weekend on how to stop future violence.

That step, Davis told me, is part of "we as parents, black people, taking charge of our kids again."

I asked one man who has fought for his Rock Hill neighbors since segregation days, Nathaniel Jaggers, president of the South Central Neighborhood Association, if this week could be defining for the York County black community.

He said it could, but only if people seize the chance. If people black and white recall the struggle that blacks had to get the right to vote, for integrated schools, for economic and education choices, then this week could be a catalyst for real success, Jaggers said.

"But I fear that the people who need to be there to hear those speakers won't be there," Jaggers said.

So that leaves the question for all of us: By next week, will we have learned anything?

A protest is planned for Thursday in the central Louisiana town of Jena. In December, six black teens were charged with attempted murder after a white student was beaten. The charges were later reduced, and last week, an appeals court reversed the conviction of one of the six.

The incident followed white-on-black attacks in Jena where white assailants were not charged, and came after white students hung nooses from a tree in the high school courtyard.