People’s Organization for Progress Chairman Lawrence Hamm is marking 50 years of his legendary activism with a modest rally of activists who have roots in student activism.

A rally will took place in Newark in front of Arts High School, Hamm’s alma mater, to celebrate the milestone.

On March 24, 1971 Hamm, then a senior at Arts High, led a walkout of students in support of the now historic Newark Teachers’ Strike. They then marched through downtown Newark and conducted a sit-in at the Newark Board of Education demanding that the Board come to terms with the Teachers for sake of salvaging their school year and demanding that students have more direct say in their education among some 25 other demands that they made.

“It was the first time I participated in a protest in my life, and I have been an activist ever since,” he said.

Hamm’s leadership drew the attention of then Newark Mayor Ken Gibson, the city’s first African-American mayor. Gibson, consequently, appointed Hamm to Newark’s Board of Education, making him the youngest fully empowered voting person to be appointed to a Board of Education anywhere in the country.

Out of that protest emerged what became known as the Newark Student Federation, a citywide organization of student leaders.

Hamm’s emergence would also draw the attention of the late Amiri Baraka, Newark’s internationally renown champion of the Black Radical Tradition at the time. Baraka would give Hamm the African name Adhimu Chunga, and would become a huge personal lifelong influence.

At the time of the protest, Hamm was as a senior and was also president of the school’s student council. He was also a champion distance runner and captain of the Arts High Track Team. This feature of his athleticism would come to center his now legendary activist history and profile. He would go on to Princeton where his activism would take another leap when he led a student sit-in there protesting the Ivy League school’s investment in the dreaded Apartheid government in South Africa. He co-founded the People’s Organization for Progress in 1983 and has been its only chairman.

Joining Hamm this week at Arts High School was activist educator Akili Buchanan who led the campaign as a high school student to have what was then South Side High School in Newark renamed Malcolm X Shabazz High School, the first institution in the country to so honor the slain Human Rights leader. He was also joined by former NJ Assemblyman Craig Stanley, who co-authored the groundbreaking Amistad Bill. Stanley was also an Arts High School student who participated in the epic walk out.

Local scholars Professors Kelly Harris of Seton Hall and Akil Khalfani of Essex County College will offer remarks on the historical importance of student organizing. Representing current student activism will be Assatta Mann, chairperson of Progressive Democrats of New Jersey and Chris Duran of Jersey Youth For Mumia, both with activist ties to Rutgers and Seton Hall respectively.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *