Published:Friday, February 19, 2016
A nine-day civil rights pilgrimage through the South in October with her University of Washington civil rights class brought history to life for Meron Fikru.
Places like the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, which became a rallying point in the civil rights movement after the KKK bombed it in 1963, killing four girls, and Money, Mississippi, where Emmett Till was lynched, made an impression, and so did her travel companions. Meron rode through history with an interracial, intergenerational group that included professors, students, student mentors, and older adults.
“It was a really cool community within a bus, a varied representation of what it is to be an American,” Meron said.
Meron’s interest in civil rights prompted the class’s professor to suggest an internship with the ACLU. Since becoming the ACLU’s Youth Policy Program Intern in February, she has conducted research into how young people mature into adults, what sentences are most appropriate for youth, and alternatives to jailing young people.
Born in 1994, Meron has been struck by how dramatically thinking on juvenile justice has changed in her lifetime. Fears of an impending teen crime wave of “super predators” have fallen away, she noted, while the Supreme Court has recognized that brains are not fully developed until people are in their mid-twenties.
This spring, Meron will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Law, Societies, and Justice. Then she’ll move to Oxford, Mississippi to take a year-long internship at the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi, a campus center which focuses on issues of race and equity, youth engagement with Mississippi civil rights history, and restorative community-building.
Meron has spent just one day in Oxford, on her trip in October. Born in London, she moved with her family to North Seattle in 1996.
“I was raised to embrace my Ethiopian identity first, but I grew up also fully engaged with Black culture. On top of that, I’m a feminist,” she said. “I deal with these complex identities all the time.”
To unwind, Meron enjoys binge-watching “Modern Family” and anything having to do with puppies.