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A Conversation With Donzaleigh Abernathy: Daughter Of Civil Rights Movement

Sweeney Gloria

By Sweeney Gloria

Sweeney Gloria

28 Feb 2021

Donzaleigh Abernathy and I came together in light of a unique choral project she appears in, curated by songwriter and composer, Cheryl B. Engelhardt. It pays homage to the “Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break The Silence” speech Martin Luther King Jr delivered in 1967, exactly a year prior to his assassination.  

Appearing as a soloist in the inspirational ‘The Listening’ session is quite fitting for the woman who carries the legacy of the social justice mogul and is the daughter of the late Rev. Ralph Abernathy, who constructed the infamous Selma march in 1965. Whilst carrying the same sentiment, Donzaleigh’s protest takes a different format. I had the privilege of dissecting and gaining special insight on the Civil Rights Movement, the Black experience and thoughts on modern-day forms of protest – all with one who has dedicated her life to the arts and to echoing the bold message of her forefathers. 

Having both starred alongside Meghan Markle in comedy-drama series, ‘Scrubs’, and given talks on her lineage across the States, I instantly acknowledged Donzaleigh Abernathy as a renaissance woman. Carrying the arts on her shoulders and the fight for justice in her heart, I listened in awe as she unraveled the makings of her character and childhood. 

“My dad and uncle Martin were so courageous and wise. I feel so incredibly blessed to have been there. We were taught from the very beginning of our lives that we stood on the shoulders of enslaved Black people and we had endured 100 years of segregation. We, therefore, had a responsibility as their children to conduct ourselves a certain way. We were always being watched whether it was the church, the media, police and even white supremacists. There were huge shoes to fill and now I’m left with a legacy that I must uphold.” 

In growing conversation, we shifted into the modern Black Lives Matter movement. I sought to discover her thoughts on newer models of protest (online and beyond), as she is the child of a peaceful and strategic model.

“I do believe that they are all essentially non-violent movements. I love that they are integrated – probably more integrated than the Civil Rights Movement. The Black Lives Matter movement includes every single race and group, especially in the marches. Violence only begets more violence and will not achieve results. In order to have an effective movement, we need leadership. My father kept all the organisations together so that Uncle Martin could emerge as the voice. We don’t have that today, though the beauty of it is the cause that drives it all.”

Young Donzaleigh Abernathy is pictured here marching alongside Martin Luther King Jr and Coretta Scott King in 1965.

The Black experience is a shared experience for all members of the African diaspora. In different corners of the world, narratives often mirror each other due to experiences such as oppression, discriminative systems but also cultural pride and a sense of global solidarity, particularly in media-documented matters of racism. Donzaleigh spoke candidly and explained, 

“I mean… the United States, South Africa and the UK. Be mindful of the racial oppression that the world observed when Meghan Markle joined the Royal family and for someone to say otherwise, is untrue. I saw it for myself in London, many years ago. We have not arrived, we are still climbing. We have not yet achieved the goals of the Civil Rights movement.”

She then concluded our discussion with a gem,

“There is a kinship between us; as we look in the mirror we are reminded that our skin is black.” 

Tune into the moving piece which features the likes of Halim Flowers, wrongfully incarcerated for twenty-two years, and poet, Wes Felton. Support the important message delivered in song as America’s annual Black History Month comes to a close.  

Listen and watch via: http://www.cbemusic.co/listening

Credits: Donzaleigh Abernathy headshot photographed by Mary Ann Halpin.

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