Saturday, March 17, 2012

Celebrating 100th Anniversary of Bayard Rustin's Birth

Martin Luther King, Jr (left) with Bayard Rustin, one of the key architects
and organizing strategists of the Afrcan American civil rights movement
Today is March 17, 2012, the centennial of the birth of Bayard Rustin, a giant in the Civil Rights Movement for racial equality, and an openly Black gay man. Rustin is well-known as Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "right hand man," the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington where King gave his "I Have A Dream" speech. Rustin was also one of the co-founders of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and a primary organizer of the Freedom Rides of the 1960s.

Despite being the subject of an award-winning documentary called Brother Outsider (available on Netflix), the history and legacy of Rustin is not as well-known as it should be, although that is starting to change. For example, recently the City of Berkeley issued a proclamation in recognition of Bayard Rustin's 100th Birthday, but really an activist of his significance and impact one would expect multiple proclamations from various cities around the country.
Happily, the country's only national Black LGBT organization, the National Black Justice Coalition, has realized the opportunity of Bayard Rustin's centennial and is using it to organize a year-long series of events, in conjunction with the producers of the documentary, that they are calling the Bayard Rustin Centennial Project:
To honor Rustin's courage and his invaluable legacy, NBJC will spend this year celebrating the beloved "unsung hero" through its commissioned Bayard Rustin Centennial Project and in ongoing collaborations with Walter Naegle, Bayard's surviving partner and Executor/Archivist of the Estate of Bayard Rustin. NBJC is also working with Nancy Kates and Bennett Singer, co-producers and co-directors of Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, a biographical documentary that asserts Rustin's significance in American history. The recipient of more than 25 awards, Brother Outsider has been screened at The United Nations, The Kennedy Center, and for Members of Congress. 
"The National Black Justice Coalition is looking forward to spearheading this collaborative movement to bring greater visibility to the invaluable legacy of Bayard Rustin.  We recognize and value that our mission mirrors his life's work - to eradicate racism and homophobia," says NBJC's Executive Director Sharon Lettman-Hicks
"Furthermore, his identity as an out Black gay man in the Civil Rights Movement lends validity to our belief that legal rights and protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of all ethnicities are not just civil rights, but human rights, and that Black LGBT people absolutely deserve a place at the table of equality." 
NBJC's Bayard Rustin Centennial Project is honored to join in the year-long series of celebratory events taking place across the country and to build upon more than 30 years of Black LGBT community tributes to the late, great, beloved freedom fighter.
I'm sure that as more people learn about Bayard Rustin, they too will be as inspired by his life and legacy as I was when I co-founded the Barbara Jordan / Bayard Rustin Coalition, a Los Angeles-area Black LGBT community education and social justice advocacy organization in 2006.

Happy Birthday, Bayard!

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