“Smallest Freedom Fighter” Visits UNH

Miriam Correia

Sheyann Christburg, the Smallest Freedom Fighter for Martin Luther King, Jr., visited UNH Wednesday, February 8 as one of the events for Black History Month.  She started out by applauding the organization level of the Black Student Union and UNH and then went on with her story.

She was born and raised in Selma, Alabama in a family of eight children. She met MLK, Jr. when she was nine years old.  He inspired her to be a good student, to strive for excellence, and to be great.  He taught her not to be ashamed of her status and race.  Meeting MLK, Jr. gave her a new attitude, focus, direction, and sense of self.  She used to sneak out of her house to the meetings that MLK, Jr. held in the church by her house.

MLK taught Sheyann and her best friend Rachel that when asked what they wanted, their answer should always be freedom.  Her parents told her to stay away because they were scared of losing their jobs or of being injured.  She mentioned a few songs that used to get the Freedom Fighters going, “We Shall Not Be Moved,” “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory of the Coming of the Lord,” and “This Little Light of Mine.”

The march that took place on March 7, 1965, otherwise known as “Bloody Sunday” was the scariest day Sheyann has ever experienced.  Her parents told her beforehand not to go, but she snuck out because she felt that she needed to be a part of the movement.  She left a note for her parents saying that she was marching for them and she loved them.  They marched through people jeering at them and throwing things at them.  They continuously prayed through the adversity, and when they were ordered to turn around, they refused.  There was tear gas, beatings with billy clubs, dogs, and horses even trampled people.

The marchers ran, crawled, cried, bled, and fell.  Sheyann ran after being impacted by the tear gas, and Reverend Hosea Williams picked her up and ran.  She remembered telling him to put her down because he was not running fast enough.  She knew, even as a child, that what just happened, was not right.  It motivated her to keep fighting.  She loved working with young people, so she founded a youth group, which just celebrated its thirtieth year.

Christburg went on to say that the racial struggle is still not over and that racism still rears its head all over the U.S.  She says that we have progressed politically, socially, and economically, but we are still divided.  She told the audience, “Each of you bring to this world, special talents and abilities.” She told the audience to believe in the five P’s- Prayer, Passion, Preparation, Perseverance, and Patience.

She closed by saying that everyone needs to start doing things to make things better for everyone.  She said to think about the past but not to go back there.  “Working backwards means you’re sitting idle instead of doing your part to make a difference.”  Christburg told the audience to start thinking different and not to settle for mediocrity.  After the question/answer period, she encouraged the audience not to let anyone stop them from making a difference.  “The road isn’t easy, but God hasn’t brought us this far to leave us.”