At Mahaiwe, youth movement of today draws comparison to 1963 events

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GREAT BARRINGTON — Civil disobedience 55 years ago by thousands of African-American schoolchildren in Birmingham, Ala., helped fast-track passage of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Today, across the country, America's teenagers hope another youth movement will lead to national gun safety legislation in the wake of the deadly high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14.

The parallel between the two events was drawn Sunday afternoon, during a screening of "Mighty Times; The Children's March" at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center. Dozens of adults of all ages and teenagers viewed the 40-minute documentary released in 2004 that tells the story of how the young people of Birmingham braved arrest, fire hoses and police dogs in their fight to end segregation.

Using word-of-mouth under a veil of secrecy, more than 4,000 African-American schoolchildren, for almost a week starting May 2, 1963, fled their classrooms, touching off mass demonstrations and rioting that infuriated a nation.

The police response to the peaceful protest would compel President John F. Kennedy to begin pushing for a Civil Rights bill that Congress passed a year after he was assassinated.

Student Rody Lipson of New Marlborough indicated that the Academy Award-winning film is an inspiration for his generation.

"It really goes to show if you want to address an injustice in the world, we have the power," he said during a discussion with the audience.

On Friday, youths across the country will stage National School Walkout Day, as April 20 is the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado. Many school shootings later, gun safety advocates say little has been done to stem the violence on American campuses.

"Mighty Times" director Bobby Houston believes that the surviving Parkland teenagers who initiated the youth-driven campaign for gun control can have the same impact as the Birmingham student protests.

'We've been wanting change, and polls are in our favor — people want gun safety," he told an Eagle reporter. "It's a civil right to be safe; it's a civil right not to live in fear."

American teens first mobilized March 14 as high schoolers across the country staged a walkout at 10 a.m., for 17 minutes, in honor of the 17 students and teachers gunned down in Parkland four weeks earlier. Ten days later, an estimated 800,000 to 1 million youths descended on Washington to stage the March for Our Lives, calling on federal lawmakers to pass common-sense gun control.

"I think it's very important to take action like this," said march participant Ezra Gudeon. The student at Berkshire Waldorf High School in Stockbridge created a short, unnarrated video that depicted how the march took aim at the National Rifle Association, Congress and President Donald Trump for perpetuating the gun violence.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.


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