Myiya and Wesley receiving the AFSC PA award for our video at the If I Had a Trillion Dollars film festival in DC. They will be returning to DC for the National Action to Realize the Dream on Aug. 24.Photo: AFSC
This Aug. 24 at the National Action to Realize the Dream on the anniversary of the original 1963 March on Washington, MaChere Cohen, her two daughters, and five of her grandchildren will be on the bus going from Pittsburgh to Washington.
In spite of being in a wheelchair, MaChere is determined to go—for her Daddy, and for her grandchildren, especially her grandsons. MaChere'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.
As a family, they moved into an all-white suburb of Philadelphia. MaChere remembers being called “nigger” and having stones thrown at her by a little white girl, being seated separately in the movie theater, 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.
Now 87, she recognizes that because of the work done by many, 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, she says: it is especially hard for the boys because 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, MaChere's daughter, told AFSC 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, and she feels like it has happened. Her hope is that attending the march will make history real and open the eyes of the young folk. 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, 15, and Myiya, 17, 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 get from the experience, and especially her grandma, who didn’t get to go on the first march. She knows her 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, 14, 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 slavery, but she doesn’t feel that many of her classmates from affluent homes have any concept of what it would have been like.
Wynston, 13, 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.
AFSC's Pittsburgh program anticipates at least 11 buses going from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., where 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.
We will be following this family as it travels to D.C. and interviewing them on their return.