AFSC Updates for Pittsburgh Friends Meeting

American Friends Service Committee PA Updates August 2013
by Scilla Wahrhaftig, AFSC PA Program Director
This August 24th at the National Action to Realize the Dream on the anniversary of the original March on Washington 1963 MaChere Cohen, her two daughters and five of her grandchildren will be on the bus going from Pittsburgh to Washington DC. In spite of being in a wheelchair MaChere is determined to go for her Daddy and for her grandchildren, especially her grandsons.
MaChere Cohen’s father was on the first the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He then went on to become the first African American to run for U.S. Congress in Pennsylvania. He was an activist all his life and would intervene when MaChere or any of the family was discriminated against. She remembers her cousin, an excellent tennis player being held back from playing on the tennis team because he was black and her Dad going down and quietly standing in the middle of the court and saying, “if he doesn’t play, no one is playing.” They let him play this.
As a family they moved into an all‐white suburb of Philadelphia and MaChere remembers being called “nigger” and having stones thrown at her by a little white girl, being seated separately in the movie theatre, not being able to swim in the pool and how lonely it was all her high school years with almost no other black students in the school.
She recognizes that, because of the work done by many, that things aren’t where they were back then, but so many people are still locked into prejudicial attitudes.
Her hope for her grandkids in taking this trip is that they get a sense of their history and understand what they are up against.
She has tried to talk to them about Trayvon Martin, but they don’t seem to understand. It is especially hard for the boys in this society ‐ they are so much more vulnerable. She hopes they get an awareness of who they are and that cruelty to others is not acceptable.
Claire Cohen spoke of how concerned she is with the political environment at the moment. She recently heard a joke about waking up and turning back the clock 50 years, she feels like it has happened. Her hope is that this will make history real and open the eyes of the young folks. The information they get from school about the civil rights movement doesn’t give them a real idea of the struggles people faced She wants them to understand what sacrifices were required so they could have their rights today, and also to be inspired to stand up and make a difference.
This will be the first march for Henrietta, Claire’s sister. Henrietta hopes it will change people and make them work for peace and community.
None of the younger members of the family have been on a march such as this and they are very excited about the opportunity.
Both Wesley and Myiya are members of the AFSC PA youth group, and AFSC will be sponsoring them on the trip.
For Myiya, with her keen interest in politics, justice and human rights, this will be an ideal opportunity to get further understanding of civil rights in action. She is also interested in seeing what the rest of the family gets from the experience, especially her Grandma who didn’t get to go on the first march. She knows how important this is for her.
For Wesley this is a once‐in‐a‐lifetime re‐experiencing of history.
As a young black male he is hoping he can make a difference just by being there and showing others that he is standing up for his own rights.
Norma is hoping that the march will make a difference to the racism in our country and that more people will take it seriously. Her school teaches about slavery, but she doesn’t feel that many of her classmates who come from affluent homes have any concept of what it would have been like.
Wynston is hoping there will be a lot of people there and that it will have an impact here at home on how people view racism and civil rights.
We are anticipating at least 11 buses going from Pittsburgh to DC, and the predicted crowd is 100,000. The focus of the march will be on jobs and the economy, voting rights, Stand Your Ground laws and gun violence, women’s rights, immigration, LGBT equality, and the environment. A long list, but all vital issues in our society.
Our next AFSC updates will include an interview with the family when they return.


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