I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the founder of the Delaware Social Justice Remembrance Coalition, Savannah Shepherd. At 15, Savannah Shepherd founded the Delaware Social Justice Remembrance Coalition after she attended the opening of the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama in April 2018. She has won awards such as the NAACP Youth Visionary Award and was instrumental to the erection of the historical marker commemorating the lynching of George White and the re-dedication of the marker when it was stolen just weeks after its erection. The Delaware Social Justice Remembrance Coalition is a part of the Unequal Justice in Delaware project .
1. Can you talk a little bit about your experience at the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama and how that inspired you to create the DSJRC [Delaware Social Justice Remembrance Coalition]?
Savannah Shepherd: Yes, so I went to Alabama for the opening of the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and it absolutely changed my life! I was able to meet so many amazing people like Claudette Colvin and Bernice King. I heard so many people speak about their experiences with racial injustice. It really inspired me and filled me with the fire to continue this work in Delaware, especially, to see what I could do to help the cause for people who look like me, have shared experiences with me, and people who have experienced worse. This has all helped fuel the desire to research lynchings in Delaware, a focus of the Unequal Justice in Delaware project.
2. When you share the work of the DSJRC and the story of George White with students in schools, what is the one question that you get the most from the students?
Savannah Shepherd: I think some [frequently asked questions] are how I came into the work and how, as a young person I have been able to do all of this while still being in school and just balancing everything—it’s just finding that passion and letting that drive me.
3. In the Mitchell Center’s exhibit, Journey to Freedom, we consider the many ways to share African American history. What are some other ways you plan to share/memorialize the story of George White?
Savannah Shepherd: The main way is continuing to share at schools, conferences, and continuing conversations with people I meet. I would love to do other projects around George White, maybe some kind of art project near or around the dedication marker, something to memorialize him more. I think continuing the conversation is one of the strongest ways to make sure he’s never forgotten.
4. In organizing the state marker dedication for George White, what moment was the most memorable to you? Why?
Savannah Shepherd: I would say the whole process, but specifically, being at the ceremony itself and seeing the entire community come together, was beautiful to me. To see a year’s worth of work coming together to celebrate the life of someone who was wrongfully taken form us and it was really nice to see people to show up for such a cause.
5. What were some of the challenges of organizing the original state marker dedication and the re-dedication?
Savannah Shepherd: I would say [the most challenging aspect was] being so young and not having any prior experience for something like this. Learning the ropes, learning who to talk to, who to go to, being confident that I know what I am talking about and that I have a strong will to do this.
6. The work you are doing with DSJRC and the Unequal Justice project focuses on racial violence and oppression that occurred in the past. How do you connect the historical work you’re doing with the present-day challenges of racial oppression?
Savannah Shepherd: I think continuing to tell the story of how we see racism in different ways. I think this year more than ever, we’ve been able to see those racial disparities and racial injustice very clearly. Showing how lynchings that happened in the past are very much happening today just in a different form that seems more legal, even though it is still very wrong and making sure we can see those connections—seeing how it has evolved.
7. You have had opportunities such as being able to attend the opening of the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery and being able to create an organization. How can young people who might not have had such experiences still care about the Unequal Justice in Delaware project and the work of the DSJRC?
Savannah Shepherd: I think looking around at their own community and seeing where they can see themselves, what really touches them and what holds strong in their own hearts. Discover how we as a community are doing, look into projects and initiatives to try to help others around us, come together as a community and relying on each other—seeing who needs your help.
8. What advice would you give any young person who would want to start their own organization?
Savannah Shepherd: I would say, to create an organization all you really need is your passion. Follow that passion and don’t let anyone stand in your way. I think passion will really drive you to do whatever it is. There might be some scary moments and things that may seem too difficult to overcome or accomplish, but if you let that passion drive you, it will get done and it will lead to many more opportunities.
9. Are there any current projects and initiatives other the Unequal Justice in Delaware project that you would like to highlight?
Savannah Shepherd: We [DSJRC] are trying to work on getting two other lynchings in Delaware memorialized, but they are in the very early stages. Hopefully soon we can get those going so those victims can be remembered like George White is.
10. Could you share one or two books related to social justice, restorative justice, and civil rights that you are currently reading (or have read) that you would recommend to our blog readers?
Savannah Shepherd: The first book I would recommend is Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson and the second book is The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century by Grace Lee Boggs and Scott Kurashige. Both of these books opened my mind and allowed me to think in a greater sense, that I can have these revolutionary thoughts and revolutionary actions—there is a community around that is also doing this work so you are never alone.
11. How can our blog readers support the DSJRC?
Savannah Shepherd: Just continue to have conversations about the coalition and the work that we do and follow the Facebook page and soon to be Instagram account.
—End of Interview—