Gwen Webb-Appling looked at a group of students sitting in a classroom in Milan, Tenn., and cried. The Milan High School students told her they felt powerless to make positive changes in their communities.
Webb-Appling, a child protestor during the 1963 Birmingham Movement, Skyped with the class to talk about the struggles they face around the same age Webb-Appling was when she got arrested for standing up for what she believed in: justice.
“A lot of people go to jail nowadays, and they don’t have a purpose,” Webb-Appling said. “I told this group of students and their parents who were boo-hooing with me, ‘You have to lead a purpose-driven life.’”
“Just because you are raised in the ghetto does not mean the ghetto has to be born and raised in you,” Webb-Appling added.
Webb-Appling will bring her story and advice to Bryn Mawr this weekend as she makes her first visit to the Philadelphia-area. The Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church will host a screening of “The Children’s March” Saturday at 9:30 a.m. to show community members young and old how protesting in Birmingham led Web-Appling to jail at 14. The film won an Academy Award for best documentary in 2005 for its depiction of the non-violent child protests, which helped lead to the desegregation of the Alabama city, and it is often used as an educational film in classrooms.
On Sunday, Webb-Appling will discuss the film at 11:15 a.m. at the church. The reverend and speaker, who still lives where she marched the streets, will also visit eighth graders at Agnes Irwin School working on Civil Rights projects on Feb. 27 to discuss how they can positively effect social change.
As a 14-year-old cheerleading captain living in a racist society, Webb-Appling said the decision to act wasn’t hard, and she’ll share the same lessons with the students at Agnes Irwin and BMPC.
“It’s about instilling in the young people that, as your future goes, you are the one to make it positive,” she said.
For more information on this weekend's events, visit Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church's website.