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NATIONAL COUNCIL OF ELDERS FORMS IN GREENSBORO - Members of the newly formed National Council of Elders visit the F.W.

Woolworth sit-ins exhibition at the International Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro. As veterans of the civil and human rights struggle, the council says they will listen to youth leaders, and share their wisdom and experience to help impact critical issues. [Cash Michaels video still] NATIONAL COUNCIL OF ELDERS FORMS IN GREENSBORO By Cash Michaels Editor [GREENSBORO] They come from all walks of the civil and human rights struggle, each a distinguished leader with a long record of advocacy molded in courage, and sacrice. Ministers, activists, poets, former elected ofcials, retired military, disciples of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and even the former US ambassador to South Africa, among others. But this week these leaders - some in their 60s, 70s, and even some at age 80 if not beyond- came together in what they themselves called an historic gathering, specically in Greensboro, and at NC A&T University, to be reborn in a collective purpose, amid the legacy of the 1960 lunch counter sit-in movement that inspired the world, and still inspires them all.
They are now the National Council of Elders, and by their own denition, the new entity is a newly organized, independent group of leaders from many of the dening American social justice movements of the 20th century, committed to educating and mentoring future leaders who will join, and lead democratizing movements in the 21st century.
In effect, the Council - seeing a nation that 40 and 50 years ago they fought mightily to ensure would care for the poor, educate its youth, and protect the rights of communities of color is reengaging in those struggles on a collective level because they see the progress that they and other leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr had achieved, being eroded at an alarming rate.


Indeed, during their lively three-day conference discussions at NC A&T The Carolinian had exclusive access to, some had expressed dire concern that even if President Barack Obama is re-reelected, the forces of negative change per the nations economic and social structures have amassed a great deal of momentum.
Momentum the president alone cant battle.
The Council hopes that by coming together now, and bringing to fore literally hundreds of years of collective experience in civil, human, environmental, anti-war, labor, womens economic, immigrant and gay-lesbian rights advocacy, they join with young leadership like the Occupy Movement, and develop strategies, based on direct non-violence advocacy, to make America more responsive to the needs of its people, rather than the machinations of the powerful.
They see their role today, as a collective, in so many facets. Mentorship. Empowerment. Giving, yes, but also getting from youth leaders. Telling the true story of how they ushered in an era of true social change, blemishes and all. Sharing wisdom, experience and knowledge. Preserving the tradition of civil rights movement.
In short, properly equipping todays young leadership to lead.
If you have your own voice, you can create your own weather, says Elder Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, leader of the famed acappella spiritual singing group Sweet Honey in the Rock.
The phrase, tall order, doesnt even begin to dene the massive challenge this league of older diverse leaders face. But a closer look at who they are, the obstacles they faced, and the causes they fought, and in some respects are still ghting, suggests that facing long odds and towering circumstances is nothing new for this bunch.
Rev. James Lawson and his brother, Rev. Phillip Lawson, both of whom, along with Dr. Vincent Harding, worked closely with Dr. King and others in the movement, strategizing and teaching youth leaders with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the 60s how to confront racism in the South, using the philosophy and practice of peaceful direct action. Other Elders include Dolores Hurta, cofounder of the United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez, to advocate for immigrant labor rights; and Rev Dr. Mel White, who has long fought for equal right in the gay and lesbian community. The birthplace of the National Council of Elders is no accident. Greensboro is seen throughout the civil rights community and the world as one of the meccas of the movement, where in February of 1960, four courageous NC A&T University students, went to the downtown F. W. Woolworth store, sat down at the all-white lunch counter, and peacefully, but rmly, demanded to be served. It was a direct challenge to southern segregation laws, and it ignited a nationwide youth movement that saw the birth of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and young leaders like Rev. Charles Sherrod, who with his wife, Shirley Sherrod, who was red from her federal job two years ago by the Obama Administration because she was falsely labeled as a racist by the Tea Party, attended the council conference.
Indeed, when the Elders held their rst press conference Tuesday to announce their formation and purpose, it was on A&Ts campus, directly under the towering statue of the Greensboro Four.
They also came, from all across the nation, because of the work of Rev. Nelson Johnson and his wife, Joyce.
Longtime veterans of the movement for justice in Greensboro, the Johnsons have been leading as from their college years where they respectively led movements for equality, to Rev.

Johnsons involvement in the November 1979 Greensboro massacre where Klansmen and Nazis killed several demonstrators, to the Beloved Community Center the couple leads today.
The respect that many have for the Johnsons great work in Greensboro, made this city of civil rights history the perfect place for the Council to be born, they say. It is by no accident that the National Council of Elders rejects the idea of passing the torch. That would suggest they have relinquished their roles in the human rights struggle. Instead, they proclaim that they are, merging the light and heat of the torches [they] carried in the 20th century with the light and heat of the torches now carried by the young leaders of the 21st century, to inspire them to boldly move forward towards the beloved community.