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By Julian Bond’s Example, We all Need to do So Much More

Emil Photo Again Edited 61b7dabb61239

It was 1:03 a.m., California time, early Sunday morning. That’s when my cell phone alerted me with the news bulletin that Julian Bond, the long-time fighter for civil rights, had died.


And with that I knew my Cinderella moment was done.


I was in San Francisco and in a pretty celebratory mood after attending the Saturday night banquet of the Asian American Journalists Association and being named the winner of its prestigious Ahn Award for Civil Rights and Social Justice.


It’s named for the late Dr. Suzanne Ahn, an immigrant from Korea who was raised in Arkansas and Texas and became a successful physician, neurologist and inventor in the U.S.

You may not know her. She’s not a household name. But that’s the point about the fight for civil rights and social justice. It works best when we all make that advocacy a part of our lives in all that we do and with everyone we encounter.


When she died in 2003, the family created the journalism award to honor her belief in civil rights for all, especially when it came to women’s rights and the plight of Asian Americans.


Twelve years later, the Ahn award has become a coveted prize among members of AAJA. And this year I was humbled and gratified to win.


Writing as an opinion columnist in the ethnic media for 20 years makes me by definition a “civil rights” journalist. And I have done my share of stories covering the fight for social justice for Asian Americans.


That the award comes with a $5,000 check isn’t too shabby either.


It’s half-a Pulitzer, I quipped.


But it’s more important than a Pulitzer because it’s an award from an Asian American woman honoring the telling of our Asian American stories and our battles for social justice.


And while those of us who work in the ethnic media don’t toil for the money, when it comes, believe me, it’s a welcome sight.

So, as I celebrated with friends late into the night, the news of Bond’s death brought me back to reality.


I only had the privilege of meeting Julian Bond once, at a Washington gathering. But what a life he had.


Bond’s timeline as recounted by columnist Rochelle Riley in the Detroit Free Press:


“He was 20 when he co-founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

“He was 21 when he left Morehouse College early to travel the South to conduct voter registration drives.

“He was 25 when he was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives after passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts he fought for helped send many Black Americans to the polls.

“And he was 31 when he helped found the Montgomery, Ala.-based Southern Poverty Law Center and became its president for eight years.

“When he died late Saturday, he still seemed young, ageless, always on the job. His death, even at 75, was too soon.”

By the Bond standard, most of us simply aren’t doing enough. At any time in our lives. The early years, the middle, and in our late years.

It sure put my award in perspective. Even at 1:03 a.m. in the morning.


Bond has set the example for us all, wherever we are in our journey.


Always fighting, with elegance, grace and dignity, Bond teaches us we won’t overcome a thing, if we don’t do a whole lot more.


Emil Guillermo writes on race issues for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.


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