Keeping with King’s Dream, Royal Oak Twp. Asks What’s Going on? (video)
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Jan. 20, 2015)
For 25 years, Royal Oak Township has hosted a celebration in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and while the event was a fitting tribute, the speakers also raised painful topics for the community to consider.
“The theme that we chose this year is a little disturbing, but it’s something that we need to start thinking about,” said the Mistress of Ceremony Patricia Stewart. “Our theme says keeping with King’s dream. His dream of justice, freedom, equality, brotherhood and love. What’s going on with America?”
Stewart spoke of inequality and police violence, that was later echoed with a long list of statistics shared by former Royal Oak Township Supervisor Jarry L. Saddler.
“We’ve been doing this, and communities have been doing this for 25 years. And a lot of historic events have occurred over the past 25 years. The Berlin wall that separated East and West Germany no longer exists. The cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union is over. Unfortunately America has fought two wars in the Middle East. Of course we will never forget The acts of terrorism perpetrated against the United States, The bombing of the World Trade Center on of course September 11,” Saddler said. “We have witnessed natural disasters, hurricanes such as Katrina and Sandy. Of course we have also witnessed a number of firsts over the past 25 years, such as Sandra Day O’Connor becoming the first female Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Or Gen. Colin Powell becoming the first African-American to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also Eric Holder becoming the first African-American to serve as attorney general of the United States. Perhaps of course the greatest event we witnessed was the election of Barak Obama, America’s first African-American President.”
But in spite of those notable historic figures, there is much work to be done, Saddler said.
“First and foremost Dr. King believed African-Americans should seek justice, reject injustice, and dedicate themselves to the principle of nonviolence.
“Second, he believed that through mass voter registration drives and peaceful protests, African-Americans can have a great voice by participating with the political process.
“Third, and most important, Dr. King fought against economic inequality. He saw poverty as the root of social inequality. So he fought for equal employment opportunities, and fair housing for minorities. Today, while many parts of Dr. King’s dream have become a reality, unfortunately, racism, inequality, and poverty still plague America,” he said.
Saddler quoted a Washington Post editorial by Jonathan Capehart that noted there are active KKK chapters in 41 of the 50 states. Only one in 10 African Americans says that blacks and other minorities receive equal treatment with whites in the criminal justice system, but among whites half think it is equal.
“Are black males and endangered species?” Saddler said. “Instead of hanging our black man by trees, they are being killed by police in the name of self-defense.”
He cited data from “The Young Black Male: An Endangered Species”, by Gail Taylor, stating “60% of all children in the black community are fatherless and without a black male role model. Studies show that 82% of all black children Born in the ghetto are born out of wedlock. 90% of children in ghetto schools come from broken homes… Even as many lives begin on the wrong track, many others end too soon because there is more violence among black males than any other races.”
Other shocking statistics Saddler revealed showed that black males between age 15-24 were most likely to die from violence, whereas white males of the same age are more at risk for death by car accidents. One in four black men is incarcerated or on parole.
“Even though this sounds like a bleak situation, one thing is certain,” he said. “we must view this as an opportunity to develop an agenda that reaches out to black males and black females in the black community.”
Acknowledging the challenges paired well with the other speakers and performers of the day. Mens vocal group Sounds of Unity called upon people to turn to faith, while awards were given to the reverends and pastors of Royal Oak Township churches, who work together to serve the poor, host community events, and fix up neighborhoods. The Academy/Oak Park Freshman Institute Combined Choirs and Ferndale High School senior Sierra White, dancing under the direction of Ms. Winham, showed the promise of youth and the outcome of good education.
Dr. Eddie Connor, a renowned inspirational speaker and educator, read King’s famous I Have a Dream speech, and also used his own story to uplift the audience. Connor was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 15. He spoke of the challenges of being young, black and struggling from a single-family home and not having his father visit him once in the hospital. He credited his mother with his faith, and with knowing that “the first three letters of cancer is ‘can.”
“You can overcome. You can survive. You can think positive in negative situations, because God is lifting you up in spite of where you’ve been,” he said. “We can look around this room and see that it is white Americans, black Americans, people of other ethnicities and persuasions here but the fact of the matter is we are all Americans. And the last four letter of American, or African, or even American, the last four letters spell ‘I can’ and that’s the mindset we must have today.”