Hoping to spark courage within the audience, Sydney Trent spoke in Jarman Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 22 in front of about 130 people about her experiences growing up and now as a journalist.
Trent is the Senior Editor of Social Issues at the Washington Post and is also the goddaughter of Barbara Johns and granddaughter of Reverend Vernon Johns, the pastor who preceded Martin Luther King Jr. at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, according to Longwood’s website.
Dr. Jes Simmons, assistant director of citizen leadership and social justice, organized the event with the Office of Citizen Leadership and Social Justice.
Jumping at the chance to speak at Longwood, Trent started off her speech with how much time and editing went into preparing for the event with over 13 pages of material.
One of her first topics was how courage is the source in conquering fear. She discussed how the fear she felt in preparing this speech was minimal in comparison to the fear needed to accomplish what Barbara Johns did in Farmville almost 68 years ago.
“This (Farmville) is a place that has played a fundamental role in civil rights progress,” said Longwood President W. Taylor Reveley IV in regard to Barbara Johns’ protest.
Trent was very close to her godmother in that Johns would tell her stories about her time at the Robert Russa Moton High School in Prince Edward County.
Johns told Trent the story about how she led her classmates in a strike to protest the racist, substandard conditions at the high school on April 23, 1951. The protest came after Johns decided she had enough of the inadequacies such as bad equipment, lack of laboratories and horrible facilities, according to the Robert Russa Moton Museum’s website.
Her ideals caught the attention and support of NAACP lawyers, who filed a suit at the federal courthouse in Richmond. The case, Davis v. Prince Edward, was one of the five cases that were reviewed by the Supreme Court for the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education that declared segregation unconstitutional.
Emphasizing Barbara Johns’ age during her protest, Trent wanted the younger audience to be courageous in their actions as history shows the powerfulness her decision lead to an even more powerful movement.
“Young people often have more power to move the world than they even understand,” said Trent.
Trent went on to speak about Johns’ recollection of the sermons told by her uncle and Trent’s grandfather, Reverend Johns and how she often taught the same lessons to Trent growing up.
“I may well have chosen my profession as a journalist because of that spiritual and genetic connection to my grandfather given his independent and truth telling nature and love of words and wide ranging curiosity,” said Trent.
In her role as a journalist, Trent talked a lot about hate on the national scale and how learning from her elders influences how she does her job daily.
As of late 2016, Trent brought in a picture of her grandfather to place on her desk at work for a constant reminder to be brave “during more difficult times”.
“As a journalist, I feel free to talk about hate because hate is not a partisan issue,” said Trent.
Trent concluded with questions from the audience where Brittany Morgan asked Trent what young people can do to make a change in which Trent said developing strong relationships is crucial.