NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – As an African American man from a different era, former U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk has very different memories of the American civil rights movement.

“My recollections of the civil rights movement are first hand, they are vivid, and they are not academic,” he said frankly. “I lived it.”

Kirk has an extraordinary perspective on a half century of civil rights. That experience began as a child growing up in the segregated south — where even shopping was denigrating.

“We couldn’t put clothes on. They [white retailers] didn’t want us touching their clothes.”

Decades later his journey had him sitting in the Oval Office, with the nation’s first Black president.

“As much as we celebrate and revel in how far we’ve come, I think we also have to acknowledge that some of what we see reflects still a very dark and ugly side of this country — and we should not be afraid to confront that.”

Thinking of recent events that stirred ire for some and confusion for others Kirk said, “How Americans can so differently see what happened in Florida with Trayvon Martin and the other young man and rationalize that away as something other than racism… tells me that we’ve still got some work to do.”

While middle-aged adults can grasp the mindset of those times, students today mostly empathize by reading history books.

Schnavia Hatcher, Ph.D., the director of African American Studies at the University of Texas at Arlington, explained that new millennium youngsters have always had a different life. “They thought it [segregation/Jim Crow/racism] was a thing of the past. It shocked their system.”

Hatcher said her job is to make students aware that the struggle continues — on many levels.

“There is inequality in education; inequality in health, so those particular issues are very relevant to today’s generation.”

When asked how the playing field could be leveled Kirk said, “For me, everything is about education. You find me an issue and I will tell you that it’s a symptom related to the reality that we aren’t preparing our kids to have the…tools they need to succeed.”

Dr. Hatcher agrees that education is key, but after hearing her mother and grandmother talk about making that march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge she also believes that the battle has always been bigger than color. “It’s a human problem,” she said. “And we won’t be able to move forward until everyone acknowledges that it is a human problem and one that all of us need to work toward correcting.”

The centennial anniversary of the Civil Rights Act could be an incredible contrast to the golden anniversary. Hatcher said, “If we begin to move toward that aspect and that philosophy we will be having a different discussion in 50 years.”

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