Taking Risks for Your Brothers: The Power of Dr. King's Words
Human-rights activist Raymond Brown learned about the need for humanity from Dr. King.
By Raymond Brown
Brown works in the litigation department at Greenbaum, Rowe, Smith and Davis and is chair of its White Collar Defense & Corporate Compliance Practice Group. He is an expert on global human rights. Brown will speak at DiversityInc's April 24–25 diversity conference, Managing the Global War for Talent.
I was a child of what we called the "movement." My dad had taken me to hear Dr. King speak in the context of the struggle with the conservative leadership of the NAACP. (Although my dad was president of Jersey City NAACP, he was not on their side in this fight. In fact, when a national news magazine asked him on the eve of the 1963 March on Washington if he thought NAACP Executive Director Roy Wilkins was asleep at the switch, he had replied, "Hell, Roy doesn't even know where the switch is.")
I don't recall every minute of King's speech except the talismanic words and phrases … "justice … freedom … the redemptive power of unmerited suffering"—and the chills. I did know that this was an argument over direct action and protest in the movement, an argument on which King prevailed.
For more on the power of words as tools to combat hateful speech, read "NBA Star John Amaechi: Hate Speech Goes Beyond N- and F-Words." For more on dispelling stereotypes, read "'Blacks Should Not Be Satisfied With Food Stamps': The Danger of Stereotypes."
Years later, however, I trailed silently behind my dad the night before the march when the "old heads," led by the eminence grise and father of the march, A. Phillip Randolph, prevailed upon John Lewis and others not to denounce King as irrelevant and the march itself as "too little too late." Since that August, my stomach has turned as the forces of reaction and revision have used the phrase "content of their character" to convert King into a prophet of post-racialism.
But it's not a parlor game to say that King believed in "human rights." He was championing the subject just 20 years after the concept was born and long before it gained its current traction. Much of the conversation about his "Mountaintop" speech at Mason Temple the night before his assassination has missed this point and mistakenly emphasized his Mosaic premonition of death.
King used the Mason Temple moment to defend himself against those who charged him with sullying the banner of civil rights by defending underpaid garbage workers in Memphis. His response was that he was living in a time of the "Human Rights Revolution" and he would support people from Johannesburg to Memphis who were "rising" to demand freedom and justice.
His text that night was the parable of the Good Samaritan. He argued that the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was "really conducive" to ambushing because of the height of the bordering dunes. He emphasized that in leaving the road to offer rescue, the Samaritan was responding to the call of a "man of another race," thereby projecting the "I" into "thou" and taking risks for his "brother."
"If I do not stop to help with man, what will happen to him? ... If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?"
In this century, my wife, Wanda, and I journeyed from teaching in Egypt to take up the implicit challenge in King's speech and walk that road. The dunes are still there; there is still a risk in leaving that road. The decision to venture out is no less burdened with complex considerations of gender, race, class, religion and ethnicity than it ever was before. And when I think of my dad, King, John Lewis and thousands of others, from Jersey City to Darfur, who choose to take that chance and leave the road and risk the dunes, sometimes with eloquence and sometimes in silence—I still get those chills.
Read other accounts on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
DiversityInc's Denyse Leslie, senior vice president of consulting, draws a parallel between Dr. King's firsts (first arrest, first book published, first Black man to win the Nobel Peace Prize) and the firsts of Blacks still alive (or recently deceased) as they live out Dr. King's vision.
GLSEN's Executive Director Dr. Eliza Byard notes how Dr. King's message that Black people would eventually reach the promised land is a reminder today that progress, no matter how slow, is crucial.
While Hurricane Irene hit during the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial dedication, R. Fenimore Fisher reflected on how Dr. King's actions changed the law that changed society.
Why is the business case for diversity a reality and not just a theory? It is directly due to Dr. King and the civil-rights era, explains DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti.
Watch Raymond Brown speak on human rights and segregation. For more on Black History and the civil-rights movement, read "Discover America′s Black History" and "Re-Centering the History in Black History."
NAACP says: While the state has hate crime laws, they're not often enforced.
A white teen, social media identified as a student at Southington High School in Connecticut, made a racist video that included threats of lynching Black people and claims that he "hung 12 Black men from a tree just this night."
Following the funeral of Emantic "EJ" Bradford Jr., a press conference on Monday called for justice as forensics revealed he was shot in the back.
Over 1,000 people were in attendance at Boutwell Memorial Auditorium in Birmingham, Ala., on Saturday to mourn Emantic Fitzgerald Bradford Jr. and demand justice regarding his police-related death. Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. accompanied the family and delivered the eulogy.
Sen. Tim Scott, what has the Republican Party done for you lately?
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the only Black Republican in the Senate, opposed President Trump's nomination of Thomas Farr to become a federal judge, on Thursday, ending his chances of confirmation. Trump's choice — an attorney who has supported voter suppression targeting Blacks — caused Scott to defy the leader of his party's wishes.
The choir at his funeral wore black T-shirts with "SECURITY, #Justice For Jemel" printed on front.
Beatrice Roberson, the mother of Jemel Roberson, a security guard who was shot and killed by Midloathian police after detaining a shooter at a bar, said her son "died doing what he loved," and that the loss "hurts like crazy."
"He was a good person, he had a good heart," she said during his funeral at House of Hope.
85,000 votes were suppressed by Brian Kemp; Abrams is holding out to make sure no one gets shut out of being counted.
In an election where corruption coated democracy, racism threatened freedom, and where Oprah Winfrey felt the need to take her billion-dollar self to the doors of voters, Stacey Abrams, the Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate, is making sure that every single voter's voice is heard.
Free Daily Newsletter
We won't share your email with anyone.
Judge shuts down requests for more leniency in sentencing: "It would have sent the wrong message to the minority community."
Biscayne Park Police Chief Raimundo Atesiano claimed a perfect rate of solving burglaries, by charging his subordinates with stopping people of color at the "badlands"— the border of the predominantly white suburban city.
Officers Charlie Dayoub, Raul Fernandez, and Guillermo Ravelo complied with their chief's request, and paid the price. FBI investigations uncovered it, and all officers plead guilty. Dayoub and Fernandez thought that by cooperating, they would get leniency.
But U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore sentenced them to the maximum: one year in prison for the false arrests.