[Seventeen when she accompanied her family to the march, Fatima Cortez-Todd made bus banners for her group's trip from New York to Washington. After graduating from high school, and over her parents' objections, she worked for CORE in Baton Rouge, La., where she assisted in voter registration and taught literacy classes.]
My mom was very active with CORE. We used to have these Sunday fundraisers at different people's homes, and, at 17, I helped serve sandwiches and be there for the adults. We did what kids do when their parents are doing something exciting and important: We try to figure out how to be part of it.
What sticks out is that [King] talked about segregation in the South. Then he talked about segregation in the North, and people haven't really talked about that. In New York City, where I was born and raised, there were enormous amounts of discrimination in housing and jobs. He addressed that — the segregation in the skyscrapers. He talked about the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and inalienable rights, and that the United States made all these promises [related to them].
He even used the word "revolution." People are afraid of the word, but any kind of revolution is about change and holding us, as the people, responsible for those changes and holding the government accountable for its behavior.
[The speech] inspired me to figure out what my place was in the revolution. So when I came back and started college, I volunteered in a literacy program in Harlem. The idea that were there folks in New York City and kids in high school that didn't know how to read — that concept was so foreign to me. He inspired me to do the work. And that's what I've been doing ever since.
[Today, people] don't really look at the whole speech. They get caught up in the romanticizing of "I have a dream." There are very clear specific things said in that speech, which are as apropos today as they were in 1963: the responsibility of folks to vote and the responsibility of holding your government accountable.
See The March on
Washington for background & more information.
Copyright © Fatima Cortez, 2013.