Not One Step Back!

Submitted by Cherri Foytlin

This is my full speech from the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on Sunday, March 9, in commemoration of the 50th Commemoration of Bloody Sunday. Due to time constraints, the original was cut down to one minute, so I am sharing my full thoughts here.

Good afternoon! My name is Cherri Foytlin, I am the mother of six beautiful children, and I live in Rayne, Louisiana.

I would like to first recognize the land with which we are now standing as Muskogee Creek lands. I would like to remind you that the country known as the United States of America began with acts of genocide and that the blood of people of color spilled on this ground began 283 years ago. Violence in Selma against people of color did not begin or end 50 years ago – Selma is now!

selma2.jpg

As Reverend (William) Barber said, we come here to today not in celebration, but to remember and to know that there is still much work to be done in order to protect the rights of all people.

The thing is, at the time that Dr. King was taken from us, he was not finished in his work. And he left us a pretty large mandate of what he felt was needed to secure our futures. He called it The Poor People’s Campaign. It was his hope to mobilize the poor to be empowered to take action in our lives, to be at the front in building a society of inclusion and equality.

To do so we must be honest about where we have come from, and where we are today. The truth is that since the day that Dr. King was murdered, there are 10 million more people living in poverty in the United States. In fact, this town – Selma, has a poverty rate of 45 percent.

It is time to understand that this is not an accident, that the systems in this country are built to make this so, and that poverty is violence to all of our peoples.

We must remember the words of not only Dr. King, but of our dear Brother Malcolm who spoke of the knife driven in the backs of people of color. He spoke specifically of the dangers of celebrating a knife half removed.

A few minutes ago we crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, under that bridge is the Alabama River. This river is highly polluted. Our children cannot fish, swim or drink from this river without worry of becoming ill from these pollutants which were put there by several paper making corporations.

Twenty-five minutes from where we stand now, in the predominantly African-American community of Uniontown, residents are overburdened by the adverse effects of a poisonous landfill, a polluting cat-fish facility and they live with the terror of a coal ash dump.

The corporate assault on our air, land and water, which can more often be found in poor and minority communities, is nothing short of terrorism. It is an assault on our communities that deserves an equal response of protection.|

I have been poor my whole life, and I have been hungry. But the truth is that there are many ways to starve.

Today I am still hungry. I am hungry for education equality.

I am hungry for healthcare rather than no care.

I am hungry for a fair justice system.

I am hungry for truth.

I am hungry for freedom and respect.

I am hungry for full inclusion at the table of representation.

I am hungry for peace.

I am hungry for reverence toward our beautiful Mother Earth.

Mainly, I am hungry for an evolution of consciousness. For the understanding that every child is worth the struggles of this time, that every child has value, that THEY are our most precious natural resource.

On this day, we find ourselves at the point where past and present meet, we must be moved to think and act with the future in our minds and hearts.

It is time to complete Dr. King’s vision. It is time to reignite the Poor People’s Campaign!

Forward together! Not one step back!