Romeo Morris is a junior at South Side High School, and in August, about the time he starts his senior year, he’ll turn 18.
When that happens, he says, he’ll register to vote, and when the November election comes around, he’ll vote, he says.
In a way, he’s the beneficiary of actions that happened a thousand miles away and, as of March 7, exactly a half a century ago. It happened in Selma, Alabama, when black protesters, objecting to being denied the right to register and vote, were set upon by police, attacked with tear gas and clubs.
That pivotal moment, now known as Bloody Sunday, ended up on television screens and on the front pages of newspapers all over the world and eventually led to the federal Voting Rights Act.
But Morris, whose grandparents had marched with Martin Luther King and who has an aunt and uncle in Chicago who were active in the campaigns of Barack Obama, had never heard the story of Selma.
It wasn’t until he saw the movie "Selma" – he went to see it by himself – that he learned exactly what happened in that city, in that time.
So have the sacrifices that were made there 50 years ago been lost on the new generation of minorities, the ones just coming of voting age?
It’s hard to say, but Morris suspects that yes, those sacrifices, or at least detailed knowledge of them, have been lost.
In fact, the topic of registering to vote and whether you vote is what Morris calls a taboo topic among his generation – taboo in that no one is interested in talking about it.
Morris, the youngest of three children, is in basketball, football and track, a member of the Key Club and part of Upward Bound, an IPFW program. He also has an interest in law and spoke about his experience when he attended a minority law day at Indiana University. People have to stay informed, he said.
People are molded by the people they associate with, Morris said, and if you associate with people who have no interest in those areas, the topic of voting and voting rights and how those rights were secured in some places just doesn’t come up.
Teachers might emphasize those issues, but among kids, it’s just not what they talk about or want to talk about. Morris said it’s just because they’re young.
"They want to enjoy life," he said. "My generation is trying to enjoy being young."
The schools can’t be blamed, he said. "The school system can only teach you so much. You have to take the initiative" to educate yourself, too, he said.
So how does one get young people to be motivated, to get involved?
Morris said he doesn’t know. Every kid is different, he said, and you can’t shove things down people’s throats. It isn’t impossible to educate young people. "You have to be ready to deal with those who are ready to listen," he said.
But there’s doubt, too.
"It’s hard to be motivated because once you vote it’s out of your hands," he said. "It’s hard to put your full trust in them." But if you’re informed, "At least you know who you voted for."
It’s a sort of a head-shaking situation. People aren’t disappointed that young people are not aware of the struggles of the past, but then they are, he said.