Civil rights experience hits home with UCF students
On March 2 in a small room in the corner of the UCF Teaching Academy, history came to life.
Decades ago, a young black girl wanted some water but all she saw were signs that read "Whites Only."
“I was a smart little girl,” Carolyn Walker Hopp said. “I knew where to go for water, but my mother wouldn’t let me ... [she said] 'You will never drink out of a labeled water fountain, do you understand?’”
Hopp, lecturer at the College of Education, recounted her personal experience during the civil rights movement for the Be You Storytelling Project. Paired with pictures of buildings, locations and important figures, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, Hopp took the audience back in time to discuss racial matters and their significance.
"There's been a lot of change, it might not be enough, but there has been change," said Bruce Hopp, Hopp's husband.
More than a dozen audience members echoed that statement as they listened to Hopp give a year-by-year recollection of her experience through the civil rights movement, starting from her early years of childhood to the issues of today.
"Being a minority in America often means being labeled, profiled and judged by a shifty set of rules," said Shanelle Pearce, a junior at UCF. "It's stressful, it's unfair and discouraging."
Pearce said right now is a time of constant battles against racism, not unlike Hopp's time during the civil rights era.
"We really do have to think about what we have now," Hopp said as she directed the audience's attention to a hand-out.
The handout, given to people as they walked in, had an image of holding hands accompanied by an excerpt from a piece of literature Hobbs came across recently. The words across the page spoke out about unfair and unequal treatment among different races. The passage described in brief, a tense time in society for African-Americans. She asked the audience to react to the excerpt on the handout.
Hopp presented a short story for each year from the late 1950s to the present.
"1959, I ventured out into Frankford," Hopp said. "We had a student council conference, and white and black students were allowed to go."
During the conference, Hopp visited the restroom where another girl screamed at her because of her skin color.
"All my mother said was 'Well, that wasn't about you'," Hopp said.
Audi Barnes, a junior at UCF, said that being black, it's hard to tell whether someone is being rude to you just because of your skin color.
"[It] starts to weigh on your mind after a while," Barnes said.
Within the last five years, the African-American community has seen turmoil. With the Black Lives Matter, the fight against the Rebel flag, spotlighting mistreatment from police and the always-present battle of changing stereotypes, the black community feels the weight of making change.
"It's a constant battle against the illogical behavior of strangers that think they know your life story and how to treat you simply from seeing the color of your skin," Pearce said. "It takes a great deal of patience to keep moving forward in hope that one day everyone will be enlightened and realize the stupidity of racism."
Hopp prompted the audience to speak up on racial issues during the presentation, asking them to be more aware by creating an open discussion on race. The open-dialogue atmosphere allowed for many members of the audience to speak on their evolving perception of racial development.
“I try to always address it — being silent is the worst thing anyone can do," Pearce said. "I know some people might see it as a downer, but their tiny moment of awkwardness pales in comparison to the detrimental effects of racism."
Pearce emphasized that telling someone "That's wrong" isn't enough when it comes to racism.
"They need to understand why so they can make a personal change,” Pearce said.
To illustrate the ever-changing problem with racism, Hopp asked the audience to complete the following sentence: I used to think ___, but now I think ___.
"I used to think I had a handle on what I had to carry on, but now I know I don't," Wanda Wade, Hopp's daughter, answered from the audience."I have a lot of work to do [to fight racism]."
Similar responses emerged from the audience, as after Hopp's account on the mid-1900s, many audience members felt there is more that has to be done to move forward in racial equality.
"I think the most important lesson that I take from all of this is you have a foundation," Hopp said. "Your heart and your soul, that doesn’t change. It's how you respond to situations that gives you that strength."
UCF offers many programs and clubs that promote equality and strive to end racism. The UCF Black Student Union, Black Faculty and Staff Association and the National Society of Black Engineers are just a few attempts to strengthen the community and stop racism.
Alyssa McComb is a contributing writer for the Central Florida Future.