The Pitt News

Remembering activist Julian Bond

Larry+E.+Davis%2C+Jessica+Ruffin%2C+Sammie+Dow%2C+David+Shribman%2C+and+Donald+Cravins+Jr.+lead+the+discussion+at+the+Julian+Bond+Commemoration+event+on+Tuesday.++Nikki+Moriello+%7C+Visual+Editor
Larry E. Davis, Jessica Ruffin, Sammie Dow, David Shribman, and Donald Cravins Jr. lead the discussion at the Julian Bond Commemoration event on Tuesday.  Nikki Moriello | Visual Editor

Larry E. Davis, Jessica Ruffin, Sammie Dow, David Shribman, and Donald Cravins Jr. lead the discussion at the Julian Bond Commemoration event on Tuesday. Nikki Moriello | Visual Editor

Larry E. Davis, Jessica Ruffin, Sammie Dow, David Shribman, and Donald Cravins Jr. lead the discussion at the Julian Bond Commemoration event on Tuesday. Nikki Moriello | Visual Editor

By Amy Beaudine / Contributing Editor

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When Denise McCaskill was in high school, a student not much older than herself — social activist Julian Bond, a college student at the time — convinced her that young people could make a change.

To McCaskill, Bond was an inspiration that led her to lifelong work in activism.

Bond, a former Georgia state congressman, civil rights leader and chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was a social activist from his college years until his death in August, participating in activities ranging from organizing groups to petition for justice, to petitioning directly for new policies. McCaskill was one of about 60 attendees at “Building on the Legacy of Julian Bond,” a panel discussion held yesterday on Bond and his life from 5:30 to 8 p.m. The Center on Race and Social Problems hosted the discussion, which it held in the Connolly Ballroom of Alumni Hall as a free event, open to the public. David Shribman, executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, was a panelist at the event who talked about how the media covers issues alongside Jessica Ruffin, Sammie Dow and Donald Cravins, Jr. — all local or national social activists.

Under warm yellow lighting, the somber crowd listened attentively to Larry E. Davis, dean of Pitt’s School of Social Work, who began the discussion with a brief, but heartfelt, background on Bond’s life, which ended this summer.

To Davis, Bond was a precious friend, and the closest thing in his life to Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Bond was optimistic about what had been accomplished so far, but committed to continuing work to advance society,” Davis said. “We are meeting here to discuss how to continue that discussion and advance his work.”

Bond was a prominent figure in the ’60s and ’70s for many young people in America, but at yesterday’s panel discussion, Davis noted that very few students were present.

“We need to find better ways to familiarize them with Bond,” Davis said.

Ruffin, the chief operating officer of CORO Pittsburgh and the site director of Public Allies Pittsburgh, said she uses Bond’s teachings to guide her own attempts to advance his work.

Particularly, Ruffin mentioned three abilities based on the teachings of Bond: the ability to inform people about civil rights issues, the ability to inspire and the ability to get going.

“I feel myself getting goosebumps again,” Ruffin said. “The optimism he displayed, the power he’s given us as a people … it’s another thing we encourage our participants to do.”

Shribman was “struck at the innate optimism of Bond” as well as his commitment.

“The notion that he spent so many years in state Senate fighting raw and difficult battles rather than seeking higher office speaks to his commitment,” Shribman said.

That commitment is something Shribman said society should strive for as well — a continual effort to redeem the qualities of the Declaration of Independence.

Dow, a panelist and director of the Youth and College Division of the NAACP, spoke about his strong feelings based on Bond’s focused commitment, specifically geared toward young people.

“I’m one of the radicals of this generation that believes the way we do this work had to fundamentally change if we want to achieve the success we aim for,” Dow said.

Knowing some youth may be apprehensive toward this radical approach, Dow said current activists must work to help young people to not be afraid of it. Dow wants to give them resources and be a sounding board for their ideas, to make them more open to the idea of becoming social activists.

However, as seen in the lack of students at the panel discussion — only two or three in total — Bond’s teachings may not even be reaching many young people to be able to make an impact on them.

One of the few young people at the event was Dominique Cravins, 16, the daughter of panelist Donald Cravins, the executive director of the National Urban League at Washington Bureau.

However, even with her father heavily involved in activism, Dominique expressed she had not known too much about Bond prior to the event, which taught her a lot about his personal life and work as an activist.

Dominique said she has a desire to be involved in activism in the future, alongside her goal of majoring in English.

“I hope to have a profession that could help me take a role in civil rights issues,” Dominique said.

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Remembering activist Julian Bond