Justin Leigh Tolbert is a Yonkers native and member of Yonkers Community Action Program‘s board of directors. The YCAP’s mission is to reduce poverty in the community of Yonkers. YCAP meet this commitment by providing programs and services that encourage and promote healthy lifestyles.
“If you want a voice, you have to vote; you can’t complain about nothing if you don’t vote.” — Mr. James Armstrong
With such a strong, charismatic leading personality in Mr. Armstrong, we thought The Barber of Birmingham would inspire our community to reflect on their individual purpose, civic responsibility and voter participation. We weren’t wrong!
The event raised questions for the audience about democracy and patriotism in the face of adversity, and the attention and action required to ensure continued forward movement to resolve these issues.
When Mr. Armstrong said, “Dying isn’t the worst thing a man can do. The worst thing a man can do is nothing,” it was clear the audience was captivated.
After the screening, audience members were eager to take part in a discussion to consider the film’s relevance to both historical and current voting rights issues and inequalities. We were honored to have a number of elected officials in the audience, including New York State Senator Andrea-Stewart Cousins, New York State Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer, Yonkers City Council President Chuck Lesnick and Yonkers City Councilman Christopher Johnson.
A representative from the American Civil Liberties Union had the audience consider that voting rights are still under attack — state legislatures nationwide are passing voter suppression laws under the pretext of preventing voter fraud and safeguarding election integrity. In particular, the ACLU representative discussed how voter suppression laws take many forms, and collectively lead to significant burdens for eligible voters trying to exercise their most fundamental constitutional right. (For audience members who wanted to correct their voter information or register for the first time, voter registration information was available.)
During the conversation, one of our guest speakers brought up the courageous efforts of Mr. Armstrong to integrate his children to an all-white school. This led to an interesting discussion — Are we sacrificing, as Mr. Armstrong did, to make progress?
The Barber of Birmingham is now streaming on the POV website. Watch the film and learn more about the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement and the struggle for the right to vote.