Monday, January 16, 2012

Activists invoke spirit of MLK

Activists invoke spirit of MLK

King would oppose EM law, pastor says

"I have a Dream" speech debuted in Detroit: Mike Smith, archivist at Wayne State's Walter P. Reuther Library, talks about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s iconic speech at Cobo Arena.
Detroit — The Rev. Charles Williams II was still a college student when he got involved in activism just over a decade ago.
Now 30, Williams plans to mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day by following the civil rights icon's example and protesting what he sees as injustice.
The pastor of Detroit's Historic King Solomon Missionary Baptist Church will lead a demonstration today outside the Ann Arbor residence of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder against Public Act 4. The measure, enacted last year, allows the state to appoint emergency managers to oversee struggling municipalities and school districts.
Williams says the law is an attack on the voting rights of African-Americans, whose communities have been mostly affected by the law. Public Act 4 gives emergency managers broad powers to alter or cancel contracts.
"I believe if Dr. King were alive today, he would not be concerned about chicken dinners and other celebrations," said Williams. "He would be most concerned about the issues of the day."
Williams is among many local young activists who say they were inspired by King and other civil rights leaders to pursue a career of community organizing.
As the nation observes the birthday of the late civil rights leader, renewed focus is being placed on the future of the modern-day civil rights movement and who will take up the mantle of the movement.
For Williams, King's dream of racial equality is one that still requires work and dedication even more than half a century since the beginning of King's career as a civil rights advocate.
"We still have a long way to go," said Williams. "We are not at all in a post-racial era."
Today, numerous marches and other celebrations locally and around the nation will celebrate King's legacy. The federal holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader is observed on the third Monday in January.
King, who would have been 83 on Sunday, was shot to death April 4, 1968, on the balcony of a motel in Memphis, Tenn., by James Earl Ray. King, then 39, had gone to the Southern city in support of striking sanitation workers.
There are more than two dozen local events honoring King today. At Oakland University, the rapper and activist Common will be the keynote speaker at the Keeper of the Dream Scholarship Awards celebration.
Other local young activists such as Ryan Bates said King and others in the Southern civil rights battles of the 1950s and 1960s have spurred their own peaceful protests.
Bates, 28, is the executive director of the Alliance for Immigrants Rights & Reform/Michigan Organizing Project.
"I am inspired and encouraged by the incredible works by the civil rights movement," said Bates. "It shows people can win and justice can be achieved (and) we can do it through hard work and hope."
Bates said the legacy of King and those who worked with him proves "regular people" can do extraordinary things.
"They were sick and tired of being sick and tired," Bates said.
Nadia Tonova said the King legacy and the lessons learned from the modern civil rights movement have helped in her work with local Arab-Americans and Muslims. Tonova, 28, is the director of the National Network of Arab American Communities, a national project of the Dearborn-based ACCESS organization.
"The Arab-American and Muslim communities are facing their own civil rights (battle). Certainly, Dr. King and the African-American community are a huge inspiration in how we move our own movement forward," said Tonova.
The National Network of Arab American Communities is involved in bipartisan voter registration drives and other community projects.
Today, it will bring together local Arab-American and Muslim youngsters to feed Detroiters in need and pass out coats to the poor during A Day of Service. The service event will begin with a rally from 9-11 a.m. at 500 E. Lafayette Blvd.
"The way (Dr. King) really reached out on a grass-roots level and helped people to realize their own power and their own role in making change is something we definitely try to do in our own work," said Tonova.
Veteran labor activist William Lucy marched with King in Memphis to help the sanitation workers get better working conditions and pay through a new labor contract. To him, young activists will help define the future of the civil rights movement.
"The occupy (Wall Street) crowd is playing a big part," said Lucy, 77, who's in town as part of the AFL-CIO's annual "We Are One" King Day observance.
Lucy, also the president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, said the King legacy is "stronger than ever before."
"People are still very conscious of his ideals and projects," he said.

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