The Community Minority Cultural Center held its 32nd Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Observation Breakfast on Jan. 15 at the Porthole.
CMCC Interim Executive Director William B. Lott Jr. welcomed a large crowd to the breakfast that honored civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He also thanked the donors for their support of the CMCC and the annual breakfast.
Mayor Thomas McGee, State Reps. Brendan Crighton and Daniel Cahill, City Council President Darren Cyr and City Councilors Buzzy Barton, Brian Field, Rick Starbard, Jay Walsh, and Peter Capano led the delegation of state and city officials in attendance.
Darrell Murkison, secretary of the CMCC, was the master of ceremonies.
CMCC board member Gail Rayndles and Yolana Morris-Parris delivered the welcoming remarks.
Mayor McGee brought the official greetings of the city, praising Dr. King for his work in bringing people together to insure a better future for all. He said Dr. King was “a great man.”
Doreen Murray of Building Bridges Through Music performed songs at the breakfast. Michael Wheeler also entertained the group with a musical selection.
The Rev. Bernadette Hickman-Maynard of Bethel AME Church in Lynn, a graduate of Harvard University, delivered the keynote address.
Following are the The Rev. Hickman-Maynard’s remarks:
It was March 25, 1965, and Martin Luther King Jr. was standing on the steps of the capitol in Montgomery, Alabama. He and thousands of others had just finished marching for four days from Selma to Montgomery to draw attention to the evils of segregation, discrimination, and voter disenfranchisement. It was their third attempt to march.
The first time they marched, when they reached the Edmund Pettis Bridge, state and local police attacked them with clubs and tear gas and dogs. Bloody Sunday. They were driven back to Selma.
Second time they marched, it was 2 days later. Their crowd was bigger. They got to the Edmund Pettis Bridge again. They were met with a barricade of state troopers. They turned back to Selma.
For two weeks, there were court attempts to keep them from marching. There was more violence. A minister was killed. Finally, President Johnson issues an executive order to give the marchers federal protection, and twelve days after Bloody Sunday they marched again.
They walked twelve miles a day and slept in the fields at night. And after four days of walking twelve miles a day, they finally made it to Montgomery.
And they were elated. Excited to have finally made it. What started out as a March of 600 people on March 9th swelled to 25,000 people in Montgomery on March 25th. They were triumphant. They were exhuberant.
They were also tired. They were tired of being beaten, tired of being threatened. Tired of being locked out. Tired of being stepped on. They were tired. After 350 years of slavery, Jim and Jane Crow, segregation, they were tired.
And to this crowd weary with discrimination, dehumanization, and degradation for centuries. To a crowd that had been fighting just as long, who had been struggling just as long, Martin Luther King Jr. stands out, looks out at this crowd and says,
I know you are asking today, “How long will it take?” I come to say to you this afternoon however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because truth pressed to earth will rise again.
How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever.
How long? Not long, because you still reap what you sow.
How long? Not long, because the arm of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.
Here we are, almost 53 years after that speech, 53 years after the march from Selma to Montgomery. In many ways, we’ve marched forward. And in many ways we’ve been beaten back.
In 1964, we had the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and Black people had greater access to education, housing, some jobs. Discrimination and segregation, on the books at least became illegal, and many Black folk had more opportunity for upward mobility. Gradually, there was more freedom to walk the streets without threats of violence. Overt racism was becoming taboo. Recently, we even had a Black President. We have made progress.
But just like those marchers in Selma who had made some initial progress toward Montgomery, we have been beaten back by the forces of racism.
We have been beaten back by gerrymandering, voter ID laws, and a systematic scaling back of the Voting Rights act.
We have been beaten back by a criminal injustice system that incarcerates black men six times more than white men, and black women three times more than white women.
We have been beaten back by increasingly segregated schools where access to high quality education remains grossly unequal, and the achievement gap is staggering.
We have been beaten back literally by police officers who brutalize black male and female bodies with impunity.
We have been beaten back by income inequality that is worse now than it was in the 70’s, and here in the liberal Northeast. In Boston, no less, the home of abolition, we have the city with the highest income inequality in the country. Not the state, not the region. But the country.
And the poverty in Boston – the poverty in this Northeast region is concentrated in communities of color, and wealth is concentrated among whites.
We have been beaten back.
The gains of our first Black president are being strategically and systematically, beaten back by a man and a political party who made it their mission from day one to negate everything he did.
We have been beaten back. And we are tired, and on this Martin Luther King day, we ask ourselves, What is the legacy that Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement have left us here in 2018?
We look at all the problems, and we get overwhelmed. For some of us, our own experience of injustice, of racism, of discrimination is overwhelming, and at times we can’t breathe under the weight of it all.
And there are some of us who are comfortable, who are not particularly struggling. And you look around and are overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problems. You think it’s hopeless. What can we do? What can “little ole me” do?
What resources do we have to fight this? What from the past can we use now to fight this? Where can we draw from? What can we use to fight racism in the 21st Century? What legacy did Dr. King leave us, did the Civil Rights movement leave us?
The truth is, it’s an imperfect one.
Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement left us a powerful legacy – one of courage in the face of injustice. He taught us non-violent protest as a means to raise awareness. He demonstrated the power of organizing. He led a soaring appeal to the country to those with privilege, to those with power, to see the humanity in all people. That is a tremendous legacy.
And yet it is an imperfect one. It is well known. The Civil Rights Movement privileged men, heterosexual men and male leadership often at the expense of women. Women, who were not only the backbone, and the support, many of them were often the brains, the strategists, the tacticians, yet they got none of the credit. Women planned the lunch counter sit-ins, the voter registration drives, and many of the marches. In fact, many planned the March on Washington. But only men could march with Dr. King in the procession and only men could speak to the crowd.
A year before King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Prathia Hall a SNCC leader who led a prayer in commemoration of a burned Georgia church. She gave a beautifully poetic prayer against violence, against racism in which she used the refrain over and over “I Have A Dream.” Dr. King was at that memorial, and from then on, the phrase “I Have A Dream” peppered his speeches and became associated only with him.
It was Bayard Rustin, a gay man, who taught Dr. King, and many of the other leaders about Ghandi’s non-violent protest strategy, even before Dr. King adopted non-violence himself. It was Rustin who helped shape King as the symbol of peace and nonviolence that he is. Yet he was silenced, beaten, and repeatedly fired from leadership positions because he was gay.
The Civil Rights Movement was an imperfect movement. It was largely organized by Black people in service of fighting black-white racism, which was important and necessary. But it also excluded other races and ethnicities. It often ignored the intersection of sexism, classism, and heterosexism.
And we know that Dr. King, himself was a flawed individual who struggled with infidelity. We know that sexual harassment was widespread among male Civil Rights leaders, and if we’re telling the truth, and King was alive, it is entirely possible that like John Conyers and Jesse Jackson, there might be women telling their Me Too stories about him.
The Civil Rights movement was an imperfect movement. But so was every movement for equality, peace, and justice that humanity ever endeavored.
We look at the United States. Europeans came to this continent fleeing religious persecution, wanting a better life. They founded a country based on the idea of the equality of all people, but they slaughtered some people they thought were savages and enslaved other people they demeaned as animals.
Even democracy. The general way in which we set up our government. A system with the people, for the people, by the people. Fannie Lou Hamer said she cracked up whenever she heard it. She says, “With the handful, for the handful, by the handful, cause that’s what really happens.”
Even capitalism, which was developed as an alternative to feudalism to give more people a chance at wealth, a chance to produce, to earn a living, to feed their families. Still we end up with wealth concentrated in the hands of the few.
No matter the system, no matter the institution, no matter the struggle, we end up with a handful, for the handful, by the handful.
And we say that we want equality for all, and we want enough for all, but what we always start with is wanting enough for me and mine.
The reality is that all of history’s movements, all of humanity’s struggles for equality for all – they have all been limited because all never really meant all.
But while every movement had its limits, every movement expanded and adapted. And this is true of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement.
Each time the marchers in Selma were beaten back, they came back stronger, with more people joining, more diverse people standing hand in hand, walking arm and arm.
Later on, King started the poor people’s campaign, where he organized, Blacks, whites, Asians, and Hispanics to march on Washington and fight against poverty.
Dr. King took a stand against the Vietnam War, extending his message of peace, speaking out about violence not just against blacks in America, but against people in other countries.
He said, “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today—my own government.”
Dr. King’s legacy lives well beyond his actions in the Civil Rights movement. He inspired people across the world to continue to press, to not give up in the face of injustice no matter where it is. Whether we need to take the fight to the proverbial “them” or even if we need to take the fight to the proverbial “us.”
King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
And so we can’t just look outside of ourselves for the strength to give voice to injustice. We can’t just look to our so-called leaders to find the the solutions to injustice. We can’t just look to the masses who may be gathering “out there” somewhere to find the will to stand against injustice.
We must look in the mirror. We as individuals must take the baton that King and others have given us and continue in the struggle and the fight for injustice, knowing that those that came before us are not perfect, and knowing that we are not perfect. But we must continue to push, and reflect, and adjust. And push and reflect and adjust. And push.
Too often we look at King, and other leaders who are in the spotlight and people we’ve put on a pedestal. And the first thing we do is look around and say, “We don’t have any more Kings.” Or “Where’s the next King?” “Where’s the next Obama.” We need a leader. We need someone out front, someone who can show us the way.
And the second thing we do is we look at ourselves and we say, “Me?” “No way.” “I can’t do that.” But guess what, King didn’t do it either. Not by himself. Not alone.
When my daughter was 3 and half, her favorite TV show was Super Why. This series focuses on the adventures of four fairytale friends who transform into reading-powered superheroes. Pig becomes Alpha Pig with Alphabet Power. Red Riding Hood becomes Wonder Red with Word Power. Princess Pea becomes Princess Presto with Spelling Power, Wyatt turns into Super Why with the Power to Read. And the audience is Super YOU with the Power to Help. Together, they are the Super Readers! The Super Readers jump into books (literally) to find answers to everyday preschool challenges.
One particular episode I like features Princess Pea. Princess Pea’s father was too busy to help her tie her skates and she didn’t know what to do. So in order to solve the problem, the group jumps into the story of Rumplestiltskin. And in this version, the princess wants to have gold jewelry and a gold hat to wear to a party and she needs Rumplestiltskin to turn straw into gold using a spinning wheel. But he’s too busy. So she realizes that the only way she’s going to get the gold she wants is to do it herself. But she doesn’t know how to do it. She’s never used the spinning wheel. She’s never turned straw into gold. She doesn’t believe she can do it. She feels helpless, and she starts to cry. Wyatt, now Super Why says to the Princess, Why are you crying? If you just sit here crying you’ll never turn the straw into gold. She says, “I have to cry. It’s in the story. See, it says, the princess cries.”
Well Super Why, and the other Super Readers know that if the princess continues to cry, she’s never going to get the gold she wants. But the princess has to cry because that’s the way the story is written. But the Super Readers have the power to change the story. And so they go through all these different words to find a word that rhymes with cries. Maybe, dries. The Princess dries? No. Then they stumble upon tries. They like that and they change the word from cries to tries. So instead of the story saying, “The Princess cries.” It now says, “The Princess Tries.”
Once the story changed, the princess sits down at the spinning wheel, and is able to spin the straw into gold.
Many of you don’t believe you can overcome injustice because you’re following a story somebody else wrote for you.
And there are many of them out there.
There’s a story that says White people can never really address the deep systemic, pervasive problem of racism, because they’re too afraid to be called racist.
There’s a story that says that once Black people get some access to money, power and privilege they will no longer work to benefit the masses.
There’s a story that says that Black and Brown people can’t work together fight injustice because they’re in competition for jobs and Latinos only care about immigration and Black people only care about criminal justice.
There’s a story that says that church people can’t work with out and proud gay people and that gay people can’t be people of faith.
There’s a story that says that in order for a movement to be successful or worthy of joining, it has to start out completely inclusive and strategic in every way.
There’s a story that says in order to be a leader, you’ve got to be either perfect or perfectly transformed. You gotta have just the right education, and just the right background. Just the right job. Everything’s gotta line up just right.
I’m not from here, but I’ve heard some stories about Black people in Lynn. There’s a story that says Black people don’t want to step up. Black people don’t want to lead. Black people don’t want to be involved, don’t want to do nothing.
But I’m here to tell you that you have the power to change the story.
You do not have to follow a script that someone else wrote for you.
You don’t have to follow a story with an ending you think is inevitable.
You don’t have to follow a story that’s been laid out for you, whether that story’s been told in text books, history books, in newspapers, or on CNN, MSNBC or Fox News.
You have the power to change the story.
And we need you. We need each and everyone of you to tell your stories. And we need you to listen to the stories of your sisters and brothers. And when you share your stories, you change the story of fear and division.
When you act from a place of empathy, you change the story of apathy and compassion fatigue.
When you fight from a place of solidarity, you change the story of individualism and neglect.
The fight against inequality happens not just on the streets of Ferguson or Wall Street or Washington DC. The fight against inequality happens in our homes, in our classrooms, in our schools, in our religious institutions. It happens when we see that the fight is against racism, against sexism, against homophobia, against oppression in all of its forms no matter whether it takes place in police stations, institutions of higher learning, or in our own hearts and minds.
Because injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
And still we ask how long? As long as it takes.
How long? As long as it takes for white people to stand with black people to stand with brown people and everyone gets the same access to education, health care, and a living wage.
How long? As long as it takes for straight people to stand with gay people and declare together that the quality of your love is more important than the gender of who love.
How long? As long as it takes for cis-gendered people to listen to the stories of transgendered people and affirm them as full human beings and not fetishized them as objects, demean them as animals, or dismiss them as crazy.
How long? As long as it takes for fourth generation immigrants to stand with first generation immigrants and value them for their contributions and not scapegoat them for problems they brought upon themselves.
How long? As long as it takes.
As long as it takes for everyone to experience the reality of the statement, “We hold these truths to be self evident that all people are created equal.” And all really means all.