After John Lewis’s death, the instructor in Highland Park United Methodist Church’s Affirmation class gave a homework assignment for a lesson on Martin Luther King: identify human rights leaders born after 1970.
SEE PRIOR PARTS IN THIS SERIES BELOW↓
Classmates’ answers included the co-founders of Black Lives Matter, Ibram X. Kindi, who wrote How to be an Anti-Racist and Stamped from the Beginning: A History of Racist Ideas in America, Emmanuel Acho, author of Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, and filmmaker Ava DuVernay.
I thought of four local Dallas leaders who are often asked to join task forces and commissions to promote social justice.
- Richie Butler, the African American pastor of St. Luke Community Methodist church, founded Project Unity to help heal race relations between law enforcement and citizens and which recently expanded to “provide an answer to the many calls for personal and societal change following events of racial injustice in America.”
- Cece Cox, CEO of Dallas’s Resource Center, the primary LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS service organization in North Texas, recognized for her thirty-year leadership and advocacy in the LGBTQ civil rights movement.
- Jennifer Sampson, President, and CEO of the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas which focuses on education, income, and health in the community.
- Miguel Solis, Dallas Independent School District trustee and co-founder and president of the Latino Center for Leadership Development which prepares young Latinos for public service and corporate positions.
While these people are skilled leaders and advocates, I couldn’t think of young leaders of national prominence who are willing to risk their lives for their causes as John Lewis and Martin Luther King did. Why not? Individual Black, homosexual, and trans people are themselves at risk of violence, even death, from oppressors, both law enforcement and private citizens. Here are some hypotheses.
- This kind of violence has become normalized. There have been no Emmett Till moments, at least until George Floyd’s death.
- Social justice issues have become disaggregated and dispersed. The Martin Luther King and John Lewis generation could mobilize a nation around de-segregation and voting rights.
- Many activists through social media can organize impromptu demonstrations such as protests and counter-protests that took place recently in Weatherford, Texas over removing a confederate statue from the courthouse grounds.
- Authority figures are no longer highly visible in their opposition to social justice issues. There are no more governors like George Wallace and Orval Faubus to galvanize advocates. Overt enemies of social justice may have gone underground on the internet.
Another explanation is that nationally we are missing a higher calling to social justice. Martin Luther King’s philosophy and discipline of social justice inspired John Lewis who wrote shortly before his death that King said: “each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out.” Both King and Lewis believed that their stands for social justice and the resulting suffering was redemptive. Are there national leaders who articulate this higher purpose? Nominations?
Resource: John Lewis, “Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation”