Sonya Payne is a public administrator, public speaker, journalist, idealist, traveling soul, NBA & NFL fan, freedom fighter and civil rights historian. Above all a life long friend. During our time a CSU we were both very evolved in our NAACP college chapter and various other campus activities. You can follow her on Twitter.
1. Before the protest were you actively involved in social/political/civil organizations?
Yes, prior to the student protest I was involved with political and social organizing. Keep in mind, that I’m the granddaughter of a Southern Baptist preacher that had worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. in the SCLC. He worked with Fannie Lou Hamer with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. In fact, he was the chairman of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. He was at the same NAACP Strategic Planning meeting with Medgar Evers the night that he (Medgar) was assassinated. So you see, it is in my blood to stand up and speak out. Moreover, when the student protest began, I was in the south at my family’s reunion and we had just celebrated the fact that a park was being named in honor of my grandfather – who had worked tirelessly to have this park become integrated. (Blacks weren’t allowed to visit the park.) So, upon returning to Cleveland and hearing about the student protest – I knew that I had to get down to Fenn Tower and make my voice heard.
2. Why did you decide to participate? Did you stay the course? If not why?
Yes, I did stay the course. (Please see answer to no. 1 as to why I felt I had to participate.)
3. Was the protest what you expected?
I expected the university leaders to meet with the students, to respect our conviction and to meet our demands. I also thought that more students would participate in the demonstrations.
4. What was your high and low points during the sit-in?
I had several high points, the first being the family that was built out of the student protest. Sitting on the floor listening to Joseph Lowery speak about the Civil Rights Movement. Listening to Martin Luther King III speak out in support of our student protest, and of course that this sit-in was one of the longest student protests since the Civil Rights Era – it feels good to be a part of something that was compared to something so historic as the Civil Rights Movement/Student Sit-ins of the 1960s. I think a low point was the way the Cleveland State University Police came in and forcibly removed all of our protests items and belongings from Fenn Tower.
5. After the sit-in did you become or continue to be active in social/political/civic organizations? What bout present day?
Yes, I did continue to participate in social organizations (i.e. NAACP, SCLC,etc.) I have also worked on several local campaigns. In addition, I have worked on every presidential campaign since the protest. I was afforded the opportunity of attending the 2nd inauguration of Clinton/Core and also the inauguration of Obama/Biden 2009. Lest we forget my social activism/involvement in South Africa and Zimbabwe,etc.
6. What lessons, if any, did you learn during the sit-in? How has that effected you the past 20 years with personal/career/family etc.
I think that which has already been instilled within me and that which I learned from participating in the student protest has definitely guided the professional career path that I have and continue to travel.
7. You were a part of little known history. How do you preserve the memory of your participation of the protest in present day?
I never forget that which took place. I often remember and reflect not only on that which we endured during the student protest, but also that which our ancestors endured long before we came to be. I think on these things, ponder and await for the day, that we can say, like the Jews said after the holocaust – “Never Again.”