Board Member Alicia Williams Reflects on Alabama March “Uniting America”

Posted on April 9, 2012

ALICIA WILLIAMS——-“Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around,” chanted civil rights marchers in 1965 during their 5 day journey from Selma to Montgomery, Al. A journey some feared they wouldn’t see the end of. They kept marching because they knew nothing was going to change if they didn’t. If they didn’t do anything they and their children would not be able to vote. They would not have a voice on Capitol Hill. Civic engagement and participation are fundamental to having your voice and the voices of your community heard.

On Thursday, March 8, a busload of Uniting America fellows and volunteers joined the march from Selma to Montgomery, Al in support of the unity between the African-American community and immigrant community. “Immigrant rights are civil rights,” shouted the crowd of some 20,000 marchers. The energy was unprecedented as it flowed from person to person, through commerce avenue where slaves marched to be bought and sold, pass the bench where Rosa Parks got on the bus, pass the church where Martin Luther King preached, and all the way to the capitol building where HB56 was passed. The collective voices of every marcher rang as the sound of freedom.

Tears came to the eyes of some as stories of deportation and severe lack of opportunity many immigrants face were told. Fearless smiles and joyous cheers roared as 11 year old Roscoe courageously stood in front of thousands and recited a poem about what Martin Luther King would say if he were alive today. Together we all stand on the shoulders of those who fearfully marched when they needed to march, didn’t give up a seat when they were told to, and didn’t get on the bus because it was easier. Together we all stand with those who are undocumented, unafraid, and deserving of rights.

Though those shoulders are mighty we must not forget our own abilities to lead and make change happen. Those shoulders of folks from the civil rights movement are mighty stepping-stones for us. African-Americans and immigrants are stepping up together to prevent repackaging of the United States’ divided history.

Uniting America joined this march because its mission is to build bridges between U.S.-born and foreign born through citizenship, youth leadership, and volunteerism. As a U.S.-born Uniting America fellow I did not feel obligated to participate in this march because it was part of my job. I participated in this march because I believe immigrants deserve just as much access to education and public services/resources as I do. Immigrants are people who live and work in communities with people born in the U.S. When it comes right down to values and the things people want for their children and their communities immigrants are just as American as those born in America.

By marching together we showed our solidarity, power, and resilience. We portrayed our commitment to social justice through youth leadership, volunteerism, and exclaiming the importance of citizenship. I want people around the country to know this was not a march done in vain.

Alicia Williams Uniting America Fellow at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.