CUSD Hosts Middle School African American Leadership Conference

Joanne Bland, a civil rights activist from Selma, Alabama was a key speaker at CUSD’s annual Middle School African American Leadership Conference on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. (CUSD)

On February 22, the annual Middle School African American Leadership conference was presented by Clovis Unified School District. The event was live streamed on CUSD’s website.

The first key speaker for the conference was Joanne Bland from Selma, Alabama. She is an activist who participated during the 1960s civil rights movement.

Bland was actively involved in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a civil rights movement group. It was led by young African Americans and their mission was to campaign against segregation.

During her presentation, she spoke about the events of March 7, 1965, known as Bloody Sunday.

That day, 600 civil rights activists including Bland planned to begin a 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery, the capital of Alabama. The march was a movement to give African Americans the right to vote and to protest social injustice.

The march abruptly ended when they were met by state troopers after crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge just south of Selma. Troopers attempted to disband the marchers telling them to return home. When the marchers refused, the event quickly turned violent as troopers began shoving and beating the marchers.

She remembers tear gas canisters fired upon them by state troopers and how she could not breathe as her lungs filled with gas.

“If you could outrun the men on foot, you couldn’t outrun the men on horse,” said Bland.

After the violent incident, dozens of marchers were injured or hospitalized. The event shocked the world.

Bland said she would not be the person she is today without facing adversity.

“When I see injustice no matter where it is, regardless of color, as long as they are human, I’ve tried to fight,” said Bland.

Questions were asked by several students, one being Inaya Johnson of Granite Ridge Intermediate.

“When it felt like all hope was lost, what strived you to continue to be determined about making a change?” asked Johnson.

“I never totally felt hopeless,” responded Bland. She stated she made it her mission to create equality.

The second keynote speaker was Joan Trumpauer Mulholland. She began her activism during her young adult years.

She is best known for her participation in the Jackson Woolworth Sit-in in Jackson, Mississippi.

On May 28, 1963, three black activists, Anne Moody, Pearlena Lewis, and Memphis Norman, sat down at the lunch counter inside Woolworth’s restaurant. A crowd quickly gathered and for hours, they berated and assaulted the activists.

Mulholland was the first white person to join them in their demonstration.

“I knew when I had the chance to do something to make the south the best it could be, I would seize the moment,” said Mulholland.

Jordyn Sanders, a student from Kastner Intermediate, asked, “how far were you willing to go to make a change in society?”

“Once you’re in it, you can only go forward. The movement became family, we weren’t going to let each other down, so whatever it took,” said Mulholland.

The month of February is Black History Month. It is a time to reflect upon our nation’s history and a time to celebrate the achievements of African-Americans.

To watch the leadership conference, click here.

Tori Lavon is a Multimedia Journalist from Reedley, California. She received her Bachelor's in Mass Communications and Journalism with an emphasis in Broadcasting from California State University, Fresno. Currently, she is a radio intern at One Putt Broadcasting. On occasion, Tori has the opportunity to be on-air with talent. She is getting her start in media. She has a passion for reporting, photography, and videography. Tori also has a love for art; she loves to draw, paint, and does pottery on the side. One day she hopes she can be on-air talent at a radio station as well.