TROY - Renowned Civil Rights activist and speaker Juanita Jones Abernathy urged young people to stand up against injustice during Friday night’s opening session of the Leadership Conference Celebrating African American History Month at Troy University.
During the keynote address, Abernathy said America has come a long way, but has a long way to go. She urged today’s young people to become leaders.
“You all as young people see the injustices in America today, and you can make a difference if you stand up so that you are counted,” Abernathy said. “Because things are not like they should be.”
The annual Leadership Conference is co-sponsored by the University and the City of Troy and seeks to promote dialogue that fosters multicultural collaboration and equip diverse leaders with the tools to better serve their organizations and communities. This year’s theme is "Remembering our Origins, Opportunities, Truth and Spirituality."
As the widow of the Rev. Dr. Ralph David Abernathy, Martin Luther King Jr.'s closest associate, Juanita Abernathy became pivotally involved in the Civil Rights Movement from the inception of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. For much of her life, her work has taken her worldwide for the cause of justice and equality for all people.
“I tell young people all the time, it was not one person, not two. We had a movement of many, many people, and that movement changed America,” Abernathy said. “Alabama saved America from herself. Think about all of the things that Alabama did to make America the county that she is.”
But the movement didn’t stop in Alabama. Abernathy recalled taking the fight for justice and civil rights all across the nation.
“We didn’t stop with the South,” she said. “We went on everywhere because America had to become the America that she was supposed to become.”
She urged people to continue to fight for change, especially by voting.
“You might think that your vote doesn’t count. But what would happen if a thousand people thought like that? You need to register and you need to vote,” Abernathy said. “Your vote runs this country. Your legislators may not tell you, but what you say in the ballot box determines what they do in Washington, and you need not ever forget it. You are important.”
A native of Uniontown, Ala., Abernathy earned a bachelor degree in business education from Tennessee State University and taught business education at Monroe County High School and Tuskegee Institute High School before marrying the Rev. Abernathy in 1952, who had become pastor of First Baptist Church of Montgomery, dean of men at Alabama State University, professor of sociology and the first black radio show host in Montgomery. Abernathy is credited with writing the business plan for the Bus Boycott.
Abernathy has been a top national sales director for Mary Kay Cosmetics, helping empower women by helping them gain financial independence, establish credit in their own names and secure business loans. She has served on the boards of Atlanta's Fulton County Development Authority, the Department of Children and Family Services, and for the past 15 years, on the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority.
The Leadership Conference continues on Saturday at the Troy Campus with plenary sessions for both students and adults and a closing keynote address by acclaimed actor, dancer and director Jasmine Guy.
For more information, visit http://www.troy.edu/leadershipconference/