By Barrington M. Salmon
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – The Rev. Dr. Bernice A. King, at the close of Women’s History Month, electrified an audience of men and women at the National Press Club, challenging them to rise above bickering with people with whom they may have political and cultural disagreements and find common ground – including with President Donald Trump.
In a speech she called, “What Does the Black Lives Matter Movement and Trump Have in Common?” she focused on the reality of the anger and animus on one side and the disgust, concern and fear of Trump on the other. She said the way to move forward from to the vilification hurled from both sides is to find common ground.
“We need people to rise above it and engage in conversation, real conversation,” she advised. “We’re not hearing each other right now because we’re not listening. We’re trying to react to what is said. We have to realize that that individual (with whom we disagree) is still of value. We have to win over people. The next generation is watching us for cues.
“We must listen and hear even though we don’t want to,” she continued. “We should not be drawing the line, unfriending people on Facebook, disconnecting links on LinkedIn or dragging them on Twitter. We must resist separation in the face of difference. We must love unconditionally …”
Chief executive officer at the King Center in Atlanta, Dr. King was keynote speaker at the 7th annual Stateswoman for Justice Luncheon and Issues Forum, sponsored by the Trice Edney News Wire. The event, also in celebration of the 190th anniversary of the Black Press, drew about 200 men and women to the Press Club even in chilly, rainy weather.
The youngest daughter of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King caused a stir and murmurs in the crowd as she prefaced her remarks by warning the packed ballroom that her comments about Black Lives Matter and Trump might cause some discomfort.
“Now I’m going to say some things that might be a little different and controversial,” she said with a wry smile. “I’m pushing the envelope. What do they have in common? They have awakened in us deep down divisions that in many respects we have tried to avoid, ignore, deny. I don’t know about you, but I’m very concerned about that.”
The Spelman College graduate who has a Bachelor’s Degree in psychology and a Masters of Divinity and Doctorate of Law from Emory University, went on to say that “there’s a deep polarization that exists in our nation and in fact, it’s potentially getting worse…Dr. King tried to teach us how to live in a world and co-exist with all of these different ideologies. What he left is an important blueprint that we cannot escape if you’re going to create a just, equitable world. He gave us plans and a strategy: chaos or community.”
She offered Black Americans four policy and moral prescriptions they should pursue if they hope to achieve the justice and equality for which her father fought and died:
- She said the Black community must be willing to value and embrace all of the community and all aspects of justice.
- She said they and others must realize that we’re all on the same boat – that justice can’t be narrow and one-sided.
- She said there is a great need for people who’re working to forge an agency for justice and who value long-term strategic planning in that area.
- Lastly, she said the community needs people who value building the “beloved community.”
King’s remarks magnified the growing racial, social and cultural divide that has been exacerbated by a vitriolic presidential campaign, Trump’s naked appeals to race and his masterful stoking of racial fears. Sensing the anxiety and feeling of disenfranchisement White voters carried, he spoke to their anger and their belief that Washington, African Americans, Latinos and immigrants had conspired against their interests.
Hazel Trice Edney, president/CEO of Trice Edney Communications and Trice Edney News Wire – convener of the luncheon and forum – also assembled a distinguished panel of Black leaders to discuss the topic, “Listen Up America: Forging Our Agenda for Justice.” Panelists were Washington Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes, chair of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA); former Bennet College President Dr. Julianne Malveaux, a noted economist, businesswoman, author, and commentator; Dr. Lezli Baskerville, Esq., president/CEO of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO); Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers‘ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; and Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds, an award-winning journalist, minister and author of the autobiography of Coretta Scott King, “My Life, My Love, My Legacy.”
Howard University’s Yanick Rice Lamb, journalist, author and chair of the Radio, TV and Film Department, moderated the lively panel discussion. During her remarks, Malveaux drew laughter when she told King that she had to part ways with the reconciliation aspects of her keynote speech.
“My sister, I’m a Baby Panther and a cynic. Even though my doctor said fisticuffs isn’t good for my health and my girlfriend said she’s going to let me stay in jail for 24 hours,” said Malveaux, who leaned forward and gestured with her hands to accentuate her comments. “I’m resisting. I am a fighter because in every good we saw in Dr. King, we’ve seen an erosion. As Rev. Willie Barrow said, ‘We’re not as divided as disconnected.’”
Clarke expressed her deep concern about the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the US Supreme Court, who she described as an extremist who is wholly unsuited to be elevated to the High Court.
“This Supreme Court nomination has tremendous implications for us as black people in Voting Rights, healthcare and the death penalty,” Clarke said. “We deserve a justice who will fairly interpret civil rights and Constitutional laws.”
She also condemned Attorney General Jeff Sessions, saying he didn’t have to character or compassion to properly serve the people, especially African-Americans.
“The US Department of Justice is led by a man who couldn’t bring a more hostile attitude. He voted against hate crimes as a senator and he is pro-police,” Clarke continued. “We need to bring pressure to let him know that he must put aside his personal and political views. Mass incarceration is an issue we cannot turn a blind eye to. He has supported the return to the use of private prison and he has abandoned police reforms.”
During an audience question and answer session, women and men touched on multiple topics such as the disrespect meted out to women. A specific reference was to Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer, whose exchanges with White House Correspondent April Ryan have recently been criticized as disrespectful. In a condescending way, he once told her to stop shaking her head. Concerns about missing Black and Brown girls and Fox’s Bill O’Reilly’s disparaging remark about Rep. Maxine Waters wig were also discussed.
“I’m furious and angry up here and I’m still not gracious,” Rev. Reynolds said forcefully as dozens in the audience stood and applauded. “I’m angry at how Rep. Waters was disrespected. He didn’t look at her record. We can take it off and pull it off because it’s ours! April Ryan was disrespected and she’s a grown woman. She can shake her hair, her finger, any part of her! We need to shake it up!”