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Civil rights movement is example for other marginalized groups to follow
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A community conversation about race is to be held tonight at Brenau University, and recapped in print, with full video of the event posted on For those who want to attend, the event is free and starts at 6:30 p.m. at the Hosch Theatre at Brenau University.

Coming Wednesday

Some Gainesville residents were at the March on Washington and heard Martin Luther King Jr.’s words in person. Others crowded around TVs to see the Georgia preacher make history. For all of them, it was something they will never forget.

It has been 50 years since Americans sought equality between both black and white Americans, and while parts of the dream have been realized, the civil rights movement continues.

Two notable movements have been compared to the 1960s push for equal rights: voices for immigration reform and those for marriage equality.

“When you have a common cause, people tend to work together to go toward a common goal,” said Brenau University senior Lea Mason, an African-American. “So I see some groups getting together not necessarily in a violent way, but just for change.”

Cher Singleton is a senior at the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus and vice president for the Spectrum Club, a group that promotes acceptance and inclusion for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community on campus.

She sees the legacy of the events from 50 years ago in how protesters are accepted today.

“Today, people can march peacefully without fear of being arrested or attacked or something like that,” Singleton said. “They are still protesting, but it’s much more civil.”

She said the March on Washington was a “kind of example for people to follow.”

Equality between heterosexuals and the LGBT community has been a hot-button news issue, perhaps most visibly in legal cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. The court ruled on California’s Proposition 8, declaring the law against gay marriage unconstitutional. In another high-profile ruling, the court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act, effectively providing benefits to LGBT married couples that were originally only offered to heterosexual married couples.

While marriage may be the issue that comes to mind when thinking of LGBT equality, there continues to be a fight for equality in the workplace, as well.

Jeff Graham is the executive director of Georgia Equality, which primarily promotes workplace equality and HIV/AIDS awareness.

He said equating “being gay to being black is not an appropriate analogy,” but that he can see the similarities between the two movements.

“I would say, for the most part, we owe everything to the civil rights movement,” Graham said, adding the main lesson was discrimination in all forms is wrong.

Particularly, he pointed out, discrimination against others based on intrinsic, inherent characteristics, such as skin color or sexuality.

“But then there’s many, many lessons we have learned on how to build relationships, how to educate, organize and mobilize communities, and how to really change and vary your tactics,” Graham continued.

Immigration reform is another issue where many have gathered to protest for changes in the system, with much of that protest focused on acceptance of Hispanic youth brought into the country through no desire nor fault of their own. These Hispanic youth often identify as American more than with their place of birth, and for many, they have no memories of that birthplace.

Diana Vela is a Gainesville High School senior, who created a Hispanic-based group at the school. Her personal dream is to go into pediatric oncology.

Vela immigrated to the United States when she was 4 years old.

“I can remember being 10 years old, and they put on a Martin Luther King movie,” Vela said. “Since I wasn’t necessarily born here, I wasn’t sure what it was.”

At first, Vela said, she was astounded by the discrimination, until she realized it wasn’t simply against African-Americans.

“It was also toward Hispanics, Asians ... anyone of different color,” she continued. “So I realized if it weren’t for Martin Luther King, even my race wouldn’t have overcome.”

University of North Georgia senior Maria Palacios agrees, saying she sees many similarities between the civil rights movement and the battle for immigration reform.

Palacios, who was brought to the United States when she was just 2 months old, said discrimination is rampant for those who are perceived to be undocumented.

Her experience comes from working in the poultry industry, where she saw several teenagers working full-time jobs to help support their families. The companies, she said, did not do anything to prevent the unlawful practice.

She compared the practices to how African-Americans were treated once they were freed and began entering the workforce.

Despite the discrimination that exists, she says things have gotten better.

“No one is lynching undocumented people,” Palacios said. “No one is being beat up for sitting in the wrong area of a restaurant. So it was definitely a step forward.”

Both Vela and Palacios said one of the main lessons learned of the civil rights movement was how much was accomplished peacefully, either verbally or through more passive incidents such as bus and restaurant sit-ins.

“Everything that Martin Luther King did do, I do admire and it is something beautiful that he has left,” Vela said. “It was peaceful and it was a dream and it was something that many people do share.

“Even though discrimination will never leave, there’s still people out there like Martin Luther King peacefully trying to change the mind of racism,” she added.