Some places work on you. They touch your heart and inspire awe. Omaha Beach in Normandy, Independence Hall, stops on the Underground Railroad. Recently, I visited one of those places, a defunct Woolworths, now the International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro, N.C..
There in 1960, four young black North Carolina Agriculture and Technology University students dared to enter a “whites only” lunch counter. They were not served. They stayed, studied and completed homework peacefully. This went on for six months. Many others joined them. Little by little, this sit-in demonstration was replicated throughout the South. Eventually, the four blacks in Greensboro were served lunch, the Woolworths seating policy was discontinued and segregation began to fade away.
This inspiring story reminds me of the courageous young people who today advocate for the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors), which would give undocumented youth who came to this country as children a chance to earn legal status.
In May, 12 young Delaware Dreamers walked locally across the city of Wilmington to deliver petitions and present testimonies to Representative Michael Castle (R-Del).
In June, four Dreamers walked 200 miles in 15 days from Georgetown, Del., to Wilmington to Washington, D.C. They received both approval with honking horns and condemnation with verbal harassment and displays of “the finger.”
Since 2001, four futile efforts have been made to pass the DREAM Act by either the House or the Senate. Last year, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) re-introduced the DREAM Act, S.729, after being moved by weeping small children inquiring why their parents were deported.
Young Dreamers are earning widespread respect because they are smart, network nationally and emulate non-violent models utilized by leaders such as Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King and Gandhi. Throughout the nation, Dreamers are organizing public vigils, processions and 65-hour hunger strikes, signifying the 65,000 undocumented students in the U.S. who graduate from high school each year with virtually no options for a career path. Dreamer Loida Silva fell sick and was hospitalized during a recent hunger strike in Raleigh, N.C. Other Dreamers have been arrested as a result of sit-ins at local congressional offices.
In a letter to Congress, Bishop John Wester, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration stated, “Those who would benefit from the DREAM Act … can become some of the future leaders of our country, provided that we are wise enough to provide them the opportunity to pursue their dreams … The DREAM Act represents a practical, fair and compassionate solution for thousands of young persons in our nation who simply want to reach their God-given potential and contribute to the well-being of our nation.”
On July 20-21 DREAM University students were arrested for conducting sit-ins at the Hart and Russell Senate Buildings in Washington, D.C.
After graduating from the inaugural class of DREAM University, Luz Maldonado of Delaware Dreamers commented, “Emotions ran high. Graduation pumped up everyone. Hearing stories of distinguished students from across the nation brought tears to my eyes. The horrors that led them to the U.S. are incomprehensible. I was inspired and shamed to hear of their perseverance because we make many excuses for not moving forward.”
“After the ceremony, marching and rallying around the capital received attention and support. We felt heard. We felt sadness when students who did sit-ins at congressional offices were arrested and pulled away in police vans. Yet in solidarity, we waited for them, prayed for them, and went to the places where they were detained. When they were released, we thanked them for risking deportation and changing their whole lives.”
King, Day, Gandhi, and those four university students who dined at Woolworths would be proud.
Brother Christopher Posch, O.F.M., is director of Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese of Wilmington.