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From Civil Rights to Black Lives Matter: A Conversation Among Activists Past and Present

July 26, 2020 @ 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Join us for an exciting virtual program! Veteran civil rights activists Dr. Cleveland Sellers and Deedee Wright will join Empower SC leaders Rye Martinez, Jazmyne McCrae, and DJ Polite, organizers of some of the recent Columbia demonstrations, in a conversation moderated by WIS-TV Anchor Alicia Barnes.

Streaming live via Zoom and Facebook Live. Register to join the conversation here.

Meet our Panelists 

Dr. Cleveland Sellers, Jr. 

Cleveland Sellers is a native of Denmark, South Carolina.  Shaken by the brutal 1955 murder of Emmett Till, Sellers began studying the Civil Rights Movement. In 1960 at the age of fifteen, he organized his first sit-in protest at a Denmark lunch counter and movie theater, just two weeks after the Woolworth’s sit-in by students at North Carolina A & T University in Greensboro.

As much as Sellers was drawn into the emerging youth movement, his father strongly opposed his participation.  When Sellers graduated from Voorhees High School and entered Howard University in 1963, he went against his father’s wishes and became fully engaged in the Civil Rights Movement along friend and roommate Stokely Carmichael.  While attending Howard, Sellers participated in the logistical planning of the 1963 March on Washington. In 1964, Sellers’ civil rights work intensified when he joined the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).   He worked on voter registration drives in Mississippi, and was the director of the Holly Springs Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) during Mississippi Freedom Summer. In 1965, Sellers became the program director of SNCC after his successful work with the voter registration in Mississippi.

Cleveland Sellers marched across Mississippi in 1966 after the attempted murder of James Meredith, the first African American to attend the University of Mississippi.  He was present when Stokely Carmichael and Willie Ricks made the Black Power mantra popular in June 1966.

By 1967, Sellers returned to South Carolina.  In 1968 he was arrested for allegedly instigating the confrontation between protestors and police, which resulted in the death of three student protestors on the campus of South Carolina State College.  The incident became known as the Orangeburg Massacre. Tried and convicted on the charge, Sellers would spend several years in prison.  During that time, he wrote his autobiography, The River of No Return, chronicling his life and involvement with the civil rights movement.

After prison, Sellers finished college, pursued a master’s degree at Harvard University, and completed his ED. D. at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.  Seller later served as a professor of history and the Director of the University of South Carolina’s African American Studies Program.  In 2008, he was named president of Voorhees College and served until 2016. In 2017, Sellers joined the Center for Civil Rights History and Benedict College in a roundtable discussion with other SNCC participants, including Constance Curry, Charles McDew, and Annie Hackett Ritter. In the spring of 2019, Dr. Sellers served as a visiting professor in the USC African American Studies Program and as a visiting scholar in residence in the Institute for African American Research and the Center for Civil Rights History.  He co-taught a course entitled: Films and Stories of the Civil Rights Movement.

Dr. Sellers’ numerous awards and accolades include: the 2009 “Preserving Our Places in History” Lifetime Achievement Award from the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission; the 2009 Freedom Flame Award from the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute; the 2009 Legacy Award from the United Negro College Fund; the 2009 African American Male Image Award from Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., of Columbia, SC; the 2008 Instructor Emeritus, USC; the 2007 Eagle Scout Award, Boy Scouts of America; the 2003 Ada B. Thomas, Outstanding Faculty Advisor Award, USC; a 2003 Key to the City of Columbia (SC) Award; the 2003 I. DeQuincey Newman Trailblazer Award, USC Chapter of NAACP; and the 2003 Diamond Award, Office of Multi-cultural Student Affairs, USC. In addition, Sellers was awarded an honorary Doctor of Civil Law degree from Sewanee: The University of the South in 2009. In 2012, he was recognized in the annual South Carolina African American History Calendar.

Sellers has three children: Nosizwe ́A. Sellers, M.D., Rev. Cleveland L. Sellers, III (Lumumba), and former S.C. Representative, Bakari Sellers.

Ms. Doris “Deedee” Wright

Ms. Dorris “Deedee” Wright has worked for human rights and social change her entire life, starting as a student leader on the front lines of landmark protests of the Civil Rights Movement.

Born in Greenville, South Carolina, Ms. Wright joined the movement at age 15 and was recognized early as a leader, serving as president of the Youth Council of the NAACP Greenville Branch and secretary of the State Youth Council. A self-described agitator, she was arrested several times for civil disobedience as she led the first Greenville sit-ins at the lunch counters of Woolworth, H.L. Green, and Kress Five & Dime stores in 1960. One of those sit-ins resulted in the noted Supreme Court decision of Peterson v. Greenville that struck down government-aided discrimination.

As one of the “Greenville Eight,” Ms. Wright successfully challenged segregation of the Greenville Public Library. In a September 18, 1960, letter to the Greenville News, the teenager took the city council and library board to task for putting “themselves in the so-called dilemma by creating one” by arresting the students for sitting in at the library. “In reality,” she proposed, “there is no need for anyone to lose in the library suit. Integration of the libraries is not only morally right, but it is also less expensive as well.”

The protégé of NAACP leader Ruby Hurley also helped organize statewide protests, including the State House demonstration in March 1961. Under the guidance of the Southeast Regional leader of the NAACP, Ms. Wright became one of the 187 plaintiffs in the landmark Edwards v. South Carolina decision, in which the Supreme Court ruled that the students had performed “an exercise of these basic constitutional rights in their most pristine and classic form.” The case remains an essential legal precedent for our rights of public assembly and protest.

After graduating from Greenville’s Sterling High School, Ms. Wright studied pre-law and physics at Clark College, where she became the first female student body president in school history.

In Atlanta, Ms. Wright also organized the path-breaking Black Women’s International Conference: Priorities and Directives in 1975 and worked as a consultant to Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s first African American mayor.

Ms. Wright’s career was committed to social change. She earned a master’s degree in counseling psychology at the University of Missouri and conducted postgraduate research in police psychology. Then she worked in non-profit and government social services, specializing in mental health care. She managed large staffs and multimillion-dollar budgets in service of the poor and underserved. Recognized for her work, Ms. Wright was selected to review federal grant applications and assess hundreds of non-profit organizations.

Among other awards and honors, she has received the NAACP’s Martin Luther King Humanitarian, Elizabeth (Libby) Duncan Koontz, and Life Time Member awards; the University of Missouri’s Distinguished Alumna Award; and PUSH’s Freedom Fighter and Legacy awards.

After retiring to Salisbury, North Carolina, Ms. Wright served as the first African American chairwoman of the city’s planning board, as an executive community member of the NAACP, and as the interim director of Salisbury-Rowan Community Service Council.

Rye Martinez

Rye Martinez has been using her voice as a force for change her whole life. Whether through public speaking or sharing her experiences through poetry, she has known the power of words since she was a young girl.

Born and raised in Columbia SC, Rye graduated from the historic CA Johnson High School in the top 10 or her class. Growing up, Rye volunteered in the community and as an adult she saw the need for its leadership.

Shortly after the murder of Travon Martin in 2012, Rye began researching her history as a black woman in the South. Outraged and angry she began to bring awareness to systemic racism in Columbia. She created SC Protesters to unite activists across the Palmetto State and started to get involved in local politics. She has since co-founded Empower SC, a nonprofit aimed at educating, organizing, and influencing policy discussions across the South Carolina.

Jazmyne McCrae

Jazmyne McCrae is the cofounder of Empower SC and Chief of Operations. She graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2020 with a Bachelors of Arts in History. Currently, Jazmyne attends the Graduate School at USC, where she is set to graduate with a Masters in Teaching (Secondary Education) in May 2021.

Jazmyne is from upstate New York, where her sister is also an activist and organizer. She moved to Fort Mill during middle school and continued to stay in the South after graduating high school. After over ten years, Jazmyne claims SC as her home. She is committed to bettering SC for all and has a passion for youth justice and education reform for the betterment of younger generations.

As Chief of Operations of Empower SC, Jazmyne organizes different events on the ground and behind the scenes to continue the Empower SC’s vision. She is currently setting to kick off Empower SC’s first big event: the Harden St Food Justice Initiative, which will be on July 30th and 31st. Jazmyne is also a lead organizer for the Repeal the Heritage Act, a student and alumni-led initiative to repeal the law that protects Confederate monuments across the state.

DJ Polite 

DJ Polite is a PhD student in the History Department at the University of South Carolina and Director of Policy for Empower SC. His research is centered on race, empire, and citizenship. His dissertation looks primarily on the mutually reinforcing growth of U.S. Jim Crow policies and empire in the Caribbean, particularly Puerto Rico. It explores the ways that the solidification of both relied on each other, and cemented secondary citizenship status for African-Americans, Puerto Ricans, and especially women of both groups.

In addition to his work with Empower SC, he has served on the Southern Historical Association Graduate Council and as a Clean Energy Organizing Intern with the Sierra Club.

Alicia Barnes, Moderator 

Alicia joined the WIS News 10 team in May 2019 as an anchor/ reporter. You can catch her at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. anchoring Weekend Newscasts. Alicia is excited and honored to join the #1 News Team in the Midlands.

Alicia started her news career as an intern at WLNS-TV in Lansing, Michigan. She also worked as a freelance reporter for WKBD-TV in Detroit while juggling a full-time pharmaceutical sales career and earning her MBA from Wayne State University.

After living in Michigan, Alicia relocated back to her hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. While in Atlanta, Alicia was a general assignment reporter for the NBC Affiliate, WXIA-TV and a freelance reporter for FOX 5.

Alicia has covered some of Georgia’s worst natural disasters. She has reported “Live” for CNN, MSNBC, and The Weather Channel while at 11 Alive News.

After her time in Atlanta, Alicia joined NBC 7 – KNSD and the CW affiliate KSWB-TV in San Diego, California as the Weekend Anchor. In the January 2007 Platinum Awards Issue of 944 Magazine, Alicia was voted San Diego’s Favorite Female Newscaster.

Prior to joining the WIS News Team, Alicia served as the primary Anchor from 2008-2018 at ABC Columbia. She’s covered huge stories in the Midlands that made national news such as the 2015 floods, the Confederate flag coming down at the State House, and the Charleston church shootings.

Alicia was honored in 2016 to win an EMMA for Excellence in My Market in the category of “Anchor-News” from the Southeastern National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Alicia also received an honorable mention for anchoring weather SC flood coverage in 2016.

Alicia is a graduate of Clemson University where she pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. During her senior year at Clemson, Alicia made Homecoming Court representing her sorority in Death Valley.

Alicia has become an active member of the community and served as one of five judges for the 2012 Miss South Carolina Pageant. She has also held numerous board positions for several organizations.

Before leaving Atlanta in 2005, Alicia was presented an Outstanding Georgia Citizen’s Award by the Secretary of State for being a Goodwill Ambassador.

She says her proudest moment was serving as a Torchbearer, carrying the Olympic flame through her hometown of Atlanta, Georgia for the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. That year, Alicia was also honored by her high school Alma Mater, and given the St. Pius X Catholic High School Distinguished Alumni Award. Alicia served as the commencement speaker for the 2004 graduating class.

Alicia took a year off to be a stay at home mom. The day Alicia retired from television, the Columbia City Council voted March 8, 2018 “Alicia Barnes Day” in the city of Columbia, South Carolina. Mayor Steve Benjamin surprised Alicia LIVE on TV to present the proclamation.

Alicia has two kids under two years old, and an amazing husband. They love the water and you can usually catch them on Lake Murray enjoying the beautiful weather in the Midlands.


July 26, 2020
3:00 pm - 4:00 pm