OXFORD • A Nobel Peace Prize nominee with more than five decades of LGBTQ+ activism experience visited the University of Mississippi to share her work and encourage conversations around building coalitions among communities.
Mandy Carter, co-founder of Southerners on New Ground (SONG) and Nobel Peace Prize nominee as part of the 1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005, spoke to Ole Miss students during the event “Advancing Each Other: Building Coalitions Across Communities,” Thursday at Farley Hall.
Carter has been an activist for 53 years and has worked various activism campaigns and protests throughout her career, including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 Poor People’s Campaign, being a national co-chair of Obama LGBT Pride, national coordinator of the Bayard Rustin 2013 Commemoration Project, 2002 strike against the Mt. Olive Pickle Company, Inc., and others.
Carter shared how she entered Southern activism by explaining her background. Born on Nov. 2, 1948 as one of three children, Carter grew up in two foster homes and an orphanage when her mother left her when she was five. While attending ninth grade in a New York high school, her social studies class was visited by the Quaker-based American Friends Service Committee.
“That one class changed my life,” Carter said.
Carter learned about the “power of one,” which is the concept that each one of us has the potential to impact change, and would start becoming involved with organizing movements in Tennessee and San Francisco, later taking a job in North Carolina, where Carter would discover her own Southern roots, finding her mother and brother were born in North Carolina.
“That’s what got me into the South – knowing that my mother was born in the South, knowing my brother (was),” Carter said.
Students JoJo Brown, Sarah Heying, Hooper Schultz and Kendrick Wallace joined Carter on stage. Discussion touched on how student activists should not be discouraged by pushback, and the importance of seeing what can be done.
When asked by Brown what activism is supposed to look like and what defines an activist, Carter revisited the power of one concept and tied it to Emmett Till’s mother calling for an open casket at his funeral so people could see the extent of his injuries being an activist act. She also encouraged people to consider activism in terms of daily changes, such as speaking up when offensive comments are made.
“You can either sit in silence ... or you say something, but silence is the voice of complicity,” Carter said. “... Activism, little a, is ‘I’m going to get something done today.’”
Audience and panelists also discussed the day to day emotions around activism, how to plan future activism goals, funding activism work, the importance of intentionally being part of conversations with people different than you, challenging systems and reflecting on LGBTQ+ wins.
Carter also talked about founding SONG alongside five other Southern lesbians in 1993. The mission was to connect race, class, culture, gender, and sexual identity, but Carter said since then, the organization has added additional programs such as language justice, food justice and food insecurity and continues growing. The program also was part of responding to the 2019 poultry raids in Central Mississippi, and continues looking for ways to build connections between communities in the South regardless of distance.
“What I love (about SONG) is that it is still here. It is still here, generationally, and we do that in terms of how do we talk about that in 1993, 2020, 20 and keep going forward. It’s an open conversation,” Carter said.
This was Carter’s first visit to Mississippi after being invited by Mark Dolan, associate professor of journalism for the UM School of Journalism and New Media. Dolan met Carter while working on a book about place and people’s relationship to place and invited Carter during a conversation where Carter shared wanting to visit Money, where Emmett Till was lynched.
Carter said coming to Mississippi was a dream for her and felt it was important to visit now with the upcoming elections. She planned to continue meeting with students and visiting the Emmett Till memorial during her time here, but said she plans to return. For Carter, it was important to have the event be a discussion rather than lecture and she said she plans to continue doing this throughout 2020.
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