Tara J. Young was doing some volunteer work with author and civil rights advocate Simeon Wright -- cousin of Emmett Till, the black Chicago teenager who was brutally murdered in 1955 for whistling at a white woman while visiting relatives in Mississippi -- when she came up with the idea for the Civil Rights Heroes (Workers and Volunteers) on Facebook project. Young had managed to convince Wright, who describes himself as "old school," that he should have his own Facebook page. Recalls Young: "A few days later he called me, puzzled, and he said, 'Who are all these people that are trying to be my friends? I don't know them!'"
Young, 45, helped Wright to understand that the people who were friending him had probably heard him speak and wanted to "have him in their worlds." Young, who is also the founder of hiphopadvocate.org, realized there was a great opportunity to pay homage to everyday heroes who often don't think of themselves as such; and the conversation with Wright inspired her to launch an initiative that aims to connect living civil rights heroes with a cross-generational demographic of people via Facebook. The Civil Rights Heroes on Facebook project, which Young operates out of Washington, D.C., allows visitors who "like" the page to hear from as many as 100 heroes on significant dates in black and civil rights history.
"Many civil rights heroes are quick to say they're not heroes," says Young, "but they risked their lives. They were fearless." And, of course, having someone "in your world" is the stuff that Facebook is made of. "Facebook, like no other social network, allows you an opportunity to meet people outside of your circle, whom you admire from afar," Young says. "And if those people accept your Facebook friendship, you will learn from them."
Young, who was born in Brooklyn but mostly raised in Detroit, says she didn't become politically aware or even vote until she was in college, when she read Terry Anderson's "The Movement and The Sixties" for a school paper. She has since committed herself to learning about and celebrating the lives of civil rights heroes who fought and died for America.
Since its launch in February 2011, The Civil Rights Heroes project has made solid strides, drawing the attention and support from renowned civil rights leader Julian Bond as well as former U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young. In June, the page hosted a modest Black Music Month presentation, and past participants in the project have included original Freedom Rider Thomas Armstrong, the NAACP's Rodney Lawrence Hurst and veteran Larry Rubin of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
In anticipation of the August 26, 2011, unveiling of the Martin Luther King Monument in Washington, D.C., Young says she hopes the historic occasion will encourage black Americans to "rededicate ourselves to getting involved in our community." Young plans to conduct and post interviews with at least 50 leaders during the five-day event.
"We live in a world where a lot of things are pulling for our attention," she says. "Many people will not read a book on the Civil Rights Movement, but they will read a post on Facebook. After some time, they may go to another website, or read a book or two about the movement and get inspired. That's my goal. That's my desire."