Remembering MLK Jr.

Steve Bushong

Older generations fear youth doesn’t grasp ‘the dream’

Members of the Skeels Community Center in Ravenna enjoy food and conversation at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast. An honorary speaker and singing performance were also part of the event. BRIAN MARKS | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Ron Soltys

Deseree Liddell, a decorated figure in Portage County’s black community, said black youth today cannot imagine traveling only in the back of a bus or being told to enter a building through a side door.

“Now you can go to the front door,” Liddell said. “Some of us pretend everything is OK, but everything is not OK.”

The crowd inside Skeels Community Center in Ravenna yesterday agreed with a chorus of “Nos” and “Uh-huhs.” Liddell was invited to speak at the center’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast, the first since the death of Coretta Scott King, King’s wife.

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The theme of the breakfast was “The Dream — Have we allowed it to perish?”

Liddell said youth need to spend less time watching TV and playing video games and focus on the issues of inequality that confront them.

But some of the adolescents inside the community center seemed disinterested in her plea. While she spoke, they sat — one with legs extended and crossed — in the building’s lobby.

“There were no seats,” was one young man’s reasoning. Only some of the standing room in the hall was occupied.

But not all youth and young adults waited in the lobby for the older people to finish their congregation.

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Leatisher Jackson, a 2004 Kent State graduate and employee at the community center, sang “I Can’t Give Up Now,” a gospel song of encouragement.

“The song definitely has appropriateness for the day,” Jackson said. “We still have mountains to climb.”

The Secret Mountain

Jackson said many of the inequalities present today are hidden. Liddell’s grandson, Jason Mack, 32, agreed.

He cited inequalities on interest rates and government assistance for college tuition as two examples of hidden racism.

Kent State Professor George Garrison uses another term for this “hidden racism,” he called it “institutional racism.”

“Where (racism) was once outright, it has become extremely corporate,” Garrison said. “It’s hard to find an individual to place the blame on.”

Garrison used opportunities in “the world of business” as an example. The top administrative levels of Fortune 500 companies are rarely held by blacks, he said. This is seen at the university level, too, with President Lester Lefton’s cabinet, where there is not a single black member, he added.

“There’s no excuse for that as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

Youth in the lobby

“I think today’s youth are a product of the society that has produced them,” Assistant Professor Mwatabu Okantah said in an e-mail interview.

“It seems King’s legacy has been reduced to a historical footnote,” he said about the U.S. educational system.

Garrison expressed the same sentiment, placing blame on students’ parents, grandparents and school systems.

There has been a breakdown of communication across racial and generational lines, Garrison said. Younger generations have not been receiving the knowledge of the previous ones.

He said the youth in the lobby are typical of their generation, and “not just black kids, but white kids, all kids.”

This extends to college students as well.

“Our students’ general attitude about the importance of King’s legacy was revealed last year at the university-wide celebration,” Okantah said.

At that event, students were assembled in the balcony of the Student Center Ballroom. While renowned author and scholar Manning Marable gave his keynote address, one by one, sometimes in groups, students stood up and left.

“I was appalled that there seemed to be no sense of the moment,” Okantah said. “Those students who were only present because of a class assignment left the event when their class time came to an end — that Dr. Marable was in the middle of his presentation was irrelevant.”

Both Garrison and Okantah suggested a need for enlightenment among youth, particularly college students.

“Most people are stuck in the ‘I have a dream’ era, but he lifive years after that,” Garrison said.

Progress?

Garrison grew up in Rock Hill, S.C., an important town in the Civil Rights Movement, he said.

Though a young boy, Garrison followed his older counterparts into restaurants for sit-ins, marched alongside them and protested.

“We’d be marching on the sidewalk, and the Ku Klux Klan would be marching on the street, and we’d be passing each other,” Garrison said.

He saw older kids get hit and spit upon.

Though times have changed and some progress has been made, most recently President Clinton’s Global Initiative and international focus on the Darfur region in Sudan, Garrison said racism is “alive and well.”

“Only someone in the state of self denial would say there aren’t problems,” he said.

Contact minority affairs reporter Steve Bushong at [email protected].