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King holiday brings reflection on African American progress
 
Published Thursday, January 14, 2021
by Freda Freeman, Correspondent

DURHAM – Black people are through waiting for change and asking for permission.

As the nation observes the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, many are looking back over recent events and asking themselves if Black progress is being eroded. Although progress ebbs and flows, African Americans must stand united in the continued fight for their rights and to facilitate healing by getting the country to face its racist past and white privilege.

“I think, on its face, things may look better, but I think what we saw this week [siege of the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters] showed that clearly there’s 25% to 35% of America that is blatantly racist. And when you look at the votes that Trump got, there’s an additional 10% to 15% that are racist sympathizers who are just numb or don’t care about the fact that they have racist brothers, sisters, and family members out there because they’re family. Has it changed? Absolutely not, right now. Trump has emboldened people to show who they are,” said Omar Beasley, chairman of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.

Goldie Frinks Wells, daughter of civil rights activist Golden Frinks, the first Southern Christian Leadership Conference field secretary that Martin Luther King Jr. hired to oversee desegregation efforts in North Carolina, agreed that Black people have regressed.

“When I think about what Dr. King and my father and all those who were in the struggle had accomplished, the events of the past week and this past year, and many of the injustices that we’ve seen have caused me to think we’ve gone back,” she said. “The struggle isn’t over. We have to fight for our civil rights. We have to fight for better schools, better health care, better wages. Those things seem natural for our white counterparts, but they’re taken away from us.”

Wells, 78, still believes in the dreams of King and her father, but she had hoped to see greater progress by now. “I have hope, but I thought I’d see some things different than I do. I have hope, but I don’t know if I’ll see it in my lifetime,” she said.

Gloria De Los Santos, of Action NC, said racial healing begins with facing our past. “It takes acknowledging this country was founded on racism and built on the backs of Black and brown individuals. White Americans don’t want to address racism because they would then have to address white privilege,” she said.

Although disheartened by the attack on the Capitol, North Carolina State Senator Natalie Murdock remains hopeful. She said we’re experiencing both progress and regression.

“We had this threatening, horrifying riot in our U.S. Capitol, but the day before that, we elected a Black man and a 30-year-old Jewish man to serve in the U.S. Senate in Georgia. So, I think that we’re moving forward as well as that we’re reminded that we have to confront the racist history of America. With electing Joe Biden as president, Kamala Harris as vice president, we definitely are making a lot of progress, but this reminds us that if we don’t really face our past and address the racism that is rampant in every aspect of our institutions and society, that’s where we’re making the mistake,” she said.

Murdock said grassroots organizing is crucial. Black people have to remain vigilant, she said.

“We need more engagement at the local level, which we have here in Durham. We have a very engaged community; we’ve got to see more of that. You have to be invested in who your mayor is, who your city council members are, who’s sitting on your school board. We can never stop showing up. We have to organize year-round and advocate for bold policies that actually make people want to show up. We can’t get complacent, sit back, and kick your feet up because that’s when your rights will be taken away.”

Leonardo Williams, of the Durham Small Business Coalition and co-owner of Zweli’s Kitchen, promotes social economic justice and black entrepreneurship. “More Black people are starting to realize the way forward in all things, whether it’s civil rights, whether it’s economic equality, whether it’s simply having the ability to make your dreams come true, the way forward is economically. For the longest time, the heart of the Black community has been in the church, whereas for others, the heart of their community has been in the bank. Now it’s time to bring the bank and church together,” he said.

Williams is also co-founder of Bank Black Durham, which was formed to help increase Black home ownership by 10% in 10 years and to increase Black entrepreneurship by 25% by 2025. “Equity is ownership. If we can have more Black people owning their own home and owning their own small business, then we won’t be so reliant on the white dollar that wasn’t designed for us. We’ve been trying to get in this market for a long time, now we’re about to create a market ourselves,” he said.

“Politically, we don’t want a handout. We just want people to get out of the way so we can do what we can do. A lot of times there are policies that hold us back, and we don’t even know the policies exist. So, in regard to government, get out of the way. In regard to our folks, get in the game.”

Kelvin and Ronda Bullock, advocates for equity in education, have seen strides made in improving education for Black children. Acknowledging there’s still room for growth, Kelvin Bullock said: “I do feel like in the past few years the conversation of equity in education has become much more commonplace. I know in the last 30 years the conversation around equity, explicit biases, and microaggressions have become much more common in education.”

However, Ronda Bullock pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic brings up a host of other issues regarding disparities in education. “People are focusing on getting through the pandemic, and I get that, but it’s making equity an add-on. Equity is still at play. There are children who aren’t seeing themselves in the lessons and who are being ostracized,” she said.

“We have to be bold. We have to stand on what our ancestors taught us, people like Martin Luther King Jr., Black women, and other Black leadership because we haven’t reached the Promise Land yet. If we don’t stand up for ourselves, our children, and our children’s children, we will go back, because those Trump supporters have not disappeared. We have to stand up and do the work.”

 

Comments

Wonderful article! So many perspectives were shred from lock leaders and activists. It's good to take stock every MLK holiday to measure our progress and determine our next steps.
Posted on January 18, 2021
 

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