The Peace Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011 at The King Center’s Freedom Hall

American Friends Service Committee's 4th Annual program had an exciting change of venue this year, the King Center. The evening opened with a reception and social justice marketplace, which featured the work of AFSC and our partners.  The social justice marketplace is an opportunity for those attending the program to learn about the diversity of organizations working for peace and justice, and offers an opportunity for them to get involved.

This year’s partner included The King Center, Amnesty International USA- Southern Region, Metro Atlanta DSA, Performing Artists for Nuclear Disarmament, Open Door Community, Atlanta Friends Meeting, Atlanta Grandmothers For Peace, Atlanta International Action Center, Nuclear Watch South, WonderRoot, Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition/Atlanta, Human Rights Atlanta, Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, and the Friends School of Atlanta

Ever since Alice Lovelace, SERO Associate Regional Director, took over the annual event she has tried to highlight the historic connections between AFSC, Dr. King, and the Civil Rights Movement. The event is also a time when we lift up Dr. King's message of peace that so many gloss over. Too many believe that Dr. King’s work began and ended with "I Have a Dream". The reality is that the last years of his life were devoted to building a broad movement to address the growing systems of violence and oppression. Dr. King saw and eloquently articulated the connections between militarism, racism, and economic injustice in his landmark, yet often unknown speech, "Beyond Vietnam -- A Time to Break Silence -- "Delivered 4 April 1967, Riverside Church, New York City.

http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkatimetobreaksilence.htm

Dr. King was murdered exactly one year later. Most acknowledge that it was his work beyond the Civil Rights Movement that made him such a threat to the wielders of power. It is perhaps a cruel paradox that today, over 43 years after Dr. King’s landmark speech at Riverside church, that our government is spending more money on systems of violence and oppression than it ever has, while our economy lies broken.

Today, we spend more money on prisons then we do schools. 59% of our federal budget goes to the military industrial complex while 4% goes to education. It's a known fact that drug addiction is just as prevalent in white communities as it is in black communities, yet there continues to be dramatic disparities in sentencing of blacks when it comes to non-violent drug offenses that come with unusually long prison terms.

This year’s program has received lots of positive feedback.  The evening opened with the showing of “Testify Project” from the US Human Rights Network (USHRN), a 13-minute compilation DVD that strives to show an overview of current pressing human rights issues in the USA told through Testimony.

The film was followed by the voices of 2nd and 3rd grade students from the Friends School singing “Down by the Riverside”. Next, people were very moved by Paula Larke who led the audience in singing "Lift Every Voice and Sing”.  Paula was followed by an amazing group reading of selected parts of Dr. King's “Beyond Vietnam” speech, read by dozens of participants from a variety of arts and social justice organization.  The reading was powerfully choreographed by Lesly Fredman.

The Substance Abuse Prevention Teen Theater, a project of Wholistic Stress Control, Inc., performed a short play addressing the growing problem of bullying in schools. Then Betti Knott, SERO Regional Director, introduced our keynote speaker, Rev. Dr. Bernard Lafayette, Jr.

It was clear from his opening remarks that the audience was engaged and captivated by the stories he shared. Dr. LaFayette treated the audience to a largely unknown history, the relationship between Dr. King, the Friends, and AFSC.

He laid out in story the impact that AFSC had on him as an AFSC staffer in Chicago and the impact AFSC had on Dr. King and Coretta Scott King.  Dr. King, LaFayette explained, chose bring his work to Chicago because of the groundbreaking work AFSC had already done around organizing tenants. It might have made more sense to go to Boston or New York, where fundraising was less of a challenge, but there was no real ground work done there to build on. AFSC laid the foundation for King's work in Chicago.

The trip that the King family made to India to meet with followers of  Mahatma Gandhi was facilitated by AFSC; his Nobel Peace Prize nomination was made by AFSC, but the deeper connection between Dr. King and AFSC was on the ground, in the trenches every step of the way, according to Dr. LaFayette.  Lafayette went so far as to say that Dr. King and Coretta Scott King's relationship with AFSC organizers had such an effect on his analysis that it was a major factor in his decision to break the silence about the war in Vietnam. The decision to speak out about the war came with great consequences for King, consequences which he had foreseen. Consequences that many believe resulted in his murder. Many civil rights leaders, including SCLC, condemned King for breaking the silence, claiming that the war had nothing to do with civil rights.

While Dr. LaFayette spoke, was felt that we were being treated to a very intimate conversation; that he was sharing with us an unwritten history. Dr. Lafayette actually put a challenge out to the group stating, "Somebody here needs to start working on the book".

The evening was wrapped up by Tom Ferguson who treated the audience to new songs he wrote for the peace movement. You can check out his performance on YouTube, thanks to Judy Condor our volunteer videographer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qqck_GNXCk

Instead of leaving after the program ended, the audience sort of milled around in conversation, several young people approached Dr. Lafayette for interviews and photos, and he was invited to speak at other community events. Feeling inspired and fed people lingered to feast on a wonderfully inspiring program.

To see photos by Al viola from the event, follow one of the two links below: https://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2111651&id=1211966556&l=42a6312ed3 

or

http://www.photoworks.com/slideshow/album/A31FFF23AA83?c=pw59560&CS_003=4433951

Audience Feedback:

  • I really enjoyed the program last night, especially the Beyond Viet Nam piece - powerful.
  • Thank you for organizing the meaningful evening.  I am very grateful to have had this opportunity to hear Dr. Bernard Lafayette speak about his long history in the civil rights movement and with the Friends.  And the other parts of the program were also powerful.
  • [The} reading was so powerful that it helped me feel the importance of what we were communicating even more.  I'd love to be part again next year. :-)