Children of the African diaspora fight for their rights and the rights of others

April 2015

By Celine Woznica

I recently travelled to Selma, Alabama, USA to participate in the 50th anniversary celebration of the civil rights marches that took place there and changed so much of my country’s history. African-Americans had the legal right to vote, but huge (and ridiculous) obstacles prevented them from actually registering to vote. (For example, blacks were required to correctly guess the number of jelly beans in a large jar!)

My reason for travelling to Selma was to honour my own family’s participation in the marches 50 years ago, but also to hear the stories of the brave citizens of Selma who risked physical harm and arrest in their quest for civil rights. What impressed me the most were the stories of the children, some as young as 8 years old, who marched because they understood that the rights of African-Americans were not respected.

Marcellus Grace and his family during the celebrations of the Selma marches in March 2015.

Marcellus Grace and his family during the celebrations of the Selma marches in March 2015.

Many people wanted to share their stories

The mood was very upbeat while we waited in line to get close to where the ceremonies would take place. One of the people I met was Marcellus Grace. Marcellus is African-American and was a 16-year-old in high school when he got involved in the struggle for civil rights in his home town of Selma. He participated in the famous “Bloody Sunday” march which resulted in protestors being tear-gassed and beaten with clubs by the state troopers. Although he admitted to being very shaken by the experience, it did not stop him from participating in two more marches, including the final march in which he and others walked 50 miles to the state capital to demand voting rights for African-Americans. Marcellus was still too young to vote, but he fought for voting rights for others.

I was awed by Marcellus’ story of courage and commitment, one of many stories of African-American children who fought against racism and human rights violations in the 1960s.

Children’s Crusade in Birmingham, Alabama

Two years before the Selma marches, hundreds of African-American school children in Birmingham, Alabama marched to the city’s centre to speak to the mayor about segregation policies that didn’t allow them to attend the same schools, eat at the same lunch counters, or drink from the same water fountains with white children. The children were arrested and placed in jail cells until being released later to their parents.

Undeterred, the children marched again the next day but this time they were showered with water from fire hoses and attacked by police dogs. The bravery of these children inspired the nation, and the Civil Rights Act was passed later that year. Children accomplished what elected officials and politicians could not.

Today, Afro-Peruvian children in Lima are organising for children’s rights

Young Afro-Peruvian people mapping their rights during a Child to Child workshop.

Young Afro-Peruvian people mapping their rights during a Child to Child workshop.

The struggle for civil rights for people of African descent worldwide continues today. In Lima, Peru, the descendants of slaves brought from Africa by the Spanish colonisers suffer higher rates of poor health, poor educational achievement, violence, and human rights abuse. Afro-Peruvian children are organising, however. Meeting in small groups called Palenques Infantiles, children are using Child to Child methodology to study children’s rights and “map” in their communities where their rights are respected and where they are not.

I had the honour of working with some of these children in November 2014, and I saw in them the same courage and commitment as their Selma counterparts. I recently spoke to their adult leaders and commented on the similarities between the children of African descent in Peru and those in America.

The adults agreed. A few years earlier, they had visited Selma and had heard the stories. Fifty years later and on another continent, children of African descent are once again organising for their rights.


Child to Child is committed to help children realise their right to participation in all matters which affect them and to fight inequalities and injustices. For 35 years we have been at the vanguard of a social movement which believes that when children work together, they can change their world. Help us continue our work so that more children around the world can organise for their rights. Donate now