Washington (WUSA9) — “Give them what they want,” is what one of the leaders behind the historic 1968 Howard University student protest said on Tuesday.
The Howard alumni said what’s happening now is a lesson no classroom can teach.
“When young people stand up for themselves, it’s a good thing and that will carry with them when they leave Howard. Believe me -- trust me,” said Tony Gittens.
The former Howard University student said that’s what encouraged him to take risks, like starting the Washington, D.C. International Film Festival. Online, the group said April will mark their 32nd annual festival.
“In that situation, and you’re a young person as I was, as they are,” said Gittens,"…you’re called to be a leader. You’re called to make decisions and choices that not only affect you but the people who have come to trust you.”
In 1968, Gittens helped lead more than a thousand students. They took over the administration building to challenge school leaders on student expulsions, including his own. Their four-day protest changed school policy.
Looking at what’s happening on campus now, Gittens said, “Give them what they want. If not, they’ll come back. You’re not going to win this.”
He also made it very clear, he’s no longer connected with Howard and is not speaking directly to the university’s board of trustees or president.
“It’s not my position to say that. I think the students are saying it in their way and I very much support their way," he said. "It’s about the students. They paid their money. If it’s not good, you’ve got to change it,” said Gittens.
He said this type of action does not come out of nowhere. In Gittens’ case, he said they fought for change for years and talked to an administration that listened, but kept doing the same thing.
The Howard alumni did say he was happy to hear Howard did not plan to force students out of their Administration Building.
Gittens said that was a big concern during the ’68 protest and students lose trust in school leaders.