JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A civil rights conference in Jacksonville makes its debut Thursday after a two-year delay because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The three-day event starts late Thursday afternoon at the Southbank Mariott Hotel on Prudential Drive.
Organizers of the civil rights conference hope it leads to more activism, volunteering in the community and education.
Maureen Mercho with United Way of Northeast Florida, one of more than a dozen organizations sponsoring the conference, believes this can build equity in communities and empower change.
“To create any kind of change, it takes awareness of where we are and how we got here,” Mercho said. “That is what we call the truth. But we want truth and action.”
Eight keynote speakers will lead discussions on civil rights movements, including sharing their own experiences.
Jacksonville native Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole is one of the speakers.
The former president of Spelman College in Atlanta and Bennett College in North Carolina remembers growing up and not being allowed to shop in certain stores because of Jim Crow laws.
“Each of us has the responsibility, in some way, no matter how small, no matter how monumental, to push back against injustice,” Cole said.
Saturday is the final day of the conference. It also marks the 62nd anniversary of “Ax Handle Saturday.”
After an organized sit-in at a segregated lunch counter in Jacksonville on Aug. 27, 1960, a mob of white men chased and beat Black people downtown with ax handles and other weapons. People were beaten, punched, and pushed to the ground, including children and those who were not a part of the sit-in.
RELATED: Newly unearthed footage offers glimpse into Ax Handle Saturday
Mercho and Cole said those attending the conference will review moments like Ax Handle Saturday and evaluate how the city has progressed.
“This is the beginning of a movement,” Mercho said. “It is about how we move together to make a better community for all of us.”
“There are not only Black and brown people, people of color [involved],” Cole said. “There are white folk, folk of different religions, folk of the LBGTQ+ community, disabled folk, grown folk and younger folk committed to helping Jacksonville live up to its promise.”
The civil rights conference is sold out for those wanting to attend in-person but there are still spaces for people to join virtually. You can learn more about that by clicking here.