Who are Our Black Leaders?

During the 2014 Martin Luther King, Jr. Dinner at Notre Dame, one of the discussion topics addressed the presences of Black Leaders. Much to the dismay of administrators of color, the students responded, “There are no black leaders.” We were in shock and appalled. Then we wondered what point of reference the students were basing their perspective.

Generationally, we automatically began asking how they could not consider the impact of Dr. King’s work on the racial and economic fronts. The latter is what led to his untimely death.  Yes, we thought they were clueless.  Then we began contemplating who in their lifetime would they look up to or aspire to be like.  We immediately thought of President Barack Obama.  Did he not fit the description of a black leader?  Although many entertainers are philanthropic, are their professional personas such that young people would want to immolate them?  In most cases not, so who are the black innovators and leaders.
That began the new MSPS campaign to highlight living entrepreneurs, activists and others making a difference.

Our charge became to educate the community and our Facebook and tweeter followers on people, who are having a significant impact on society.  Kudos, to our student intern, Steven Waller, who coordinated this project.  He researched people, who are under the radar to highlight. As the year progresses, we will continue this effort.

Thank you to those who have commended this project and shared or retweeted the information.

Have a Safe and Warm Spring Break.

Supreme Court Deals a Voting Rights Act a Serious Blow – Diverse Issues

                 by Jamal Watson

National civil rights advocates are expressing dismay in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act that designated that parts of the country must have changes to their voting laws cleared by the federal government or the federal courts.

In a 5-4 ruling authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, the mostly conservative wing of the high court ruled in Shelby County v. Holder that “things have changed dramatically” in the South in the nearly 50 years since the Voting Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965.

But civil rights advocates said that the court’s decision was a major step backward, particularly in light of voter suppression efforts in last year’s 2012 presidential election that aggressively targeted minority and college students.

“This is a devastating blow to Americans, particularly African-Americans, who are now at the mercy of state governments,” says the Reverend Al Sharpton, president of National Action Network and an MSNBC host. “Given last year’s attempts by states to change voting rules, it is absurd to say that we do not need these protections.”

Roberts, along with Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, faulted Congress for failing to update the formula of the act when it last expired.

“Congress could have updated the coverage formula at that time, but did not do so,” wrote Roberts. “Its failure to act leaves us today with no choice but to declare (Section 4) unconstitutional. The formula in that section can no longer be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to preclearance.”

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan disagreed.

“The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the Voting Rights Act has proven effective,” Ginsburg wrote in the minority opinion. “The Court appears to believe that the Voting Right (sic) Act’s success in eliminating the specific devices extant in 1965 means that preclear­ance is no longer needed.”

In several Southern and battleground states, college students reported that they were denied access to the polls last year when they failed to present state-issued voter identification.

“This voting-rights rip-up is not unlike what is happening with the affirmative-action remedy,” said Amos Jones, a law professor at Campbell University in Raleigh, N.C., and a civil-rights attorney. “What we are seeing is a gradual chipping away by the Court of the bipartisan legislative protections that fostered substantial progress for nearly 50 years.

“Now, all of a sudden, these election safeguards are unconstitutional; they’re unconstitutional in light of the fact that they’ve succeeded in the opinion of the narrowest majority of justices. That reasoning smells fishy.”

President Obama expressed grave disappointment with the court’s decision and immediately called on Congress to pass new legislation aimed at protecting the rights of all voters at the ballot box.

“For nearly 50 years, the Voting Rights Act — enacted and repeatedly renewed by wide bipartisan majorities in Congress — has helped secure the right to vote for millions of Americans,” says Obama. “Today’s decision invalidating one of its core provisions upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair, especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent.”

Although some groups have called for a constitutional amendment, legal experts say that is unlikely, particularly with a divided Congress.

Rep. John Lewis, who was present when President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law in 1965, said in an interview that he was “shocked, dismayed and disappointed” by the court’s action. “What the Supreme Court did was to put a dagger in the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” says Lewis, who was a student leader in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s. “This act helped liberate not just a people, but a nation.”

Sharpton said that the National Action to Realize the Dream March that is scheduled to take place in Washington, D.C. on August 24, 2013 to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington will now be centered around the protection and restoring of voter protection.

“This ruling has, in effect, revoked one of Dr. King’s greatest achievements; the teeth of the Voting Rights Act,” says Sharpton.

Pursuing the Dream

As another Martin Luther King, Jr. Day approaches, MSPS reflects on the dream at Notre Dame.

Prior to a memorial service at Faith Apostolic last week, a buddy and I tuned in briefly to an old episode of “A Different World,” the early ‘90s Cosby Show spinoff about life for undergrads at an HBCU.

This particular episode revolved around the departure of one character to the Persian Gulf during the first U.S. incursion into Iraq. The characters—all of whom were black—were debating the appropriateness of a young, talented black man choosing to join a war for a cause that some didn’t see clearly—or at all.

In one exchange, a character said something to the effect of, “Why are you going over there to fight for something we can’t see when there are plenty of problems right here that we can see…?”

As we left the house, my buddy looked at me and said, “They don’t make shows like that anymore.”

Already forming the answer in my head, I asked, “Why not?”

Cynically, he answered, “Because there’s no need. We’ve realized the dream.”

“The dream” is still MLK’s dream, right? From the speech. The dream is MLK’s dream about kids growing up equal and everyone getting along and holding hands.

But the dream sometimes refers to something bigger, too. An end-goal: something quantifiable like one cup of sugar and two tablespoons of cinnamon and three whiskers of a cat. If we can just put together the correct percentage or ratio of white-to-black-to-Asian-to-Latino-to-Native together in a bowl and mix it around enough times, we will have the right recipe, the right product, the right dream.

They don’t make shows like “A Different World” anymore—a show acclaimed for purposefully tackling issues of race and class in America from the African American perspective. And we commented, as we drove to the church, that they don’t make shows like that anymore; they don’t make them because of a general liberal consensus that the dream and the product of equality already have been realized.

Is that true? Has the dream been realized?

Once we arrived at the memorial service, a colleague spoke to the congregation about the Kingdom of God. There in the same room were black, white, Asian, Latino, rich, poor, old, young: the Kingdom of God, he exclaimed. And there was cheering at the idea that for those couple of hours, the Kingdom of God—the DREAM—had been realized there in that space.

And then we left the church. And we filed to our cars. And we went home. And we went back to school and to work the next day… And something in the inspiring, emotional, celebratory atmosphere of the church was gone and the realization since has struck me: if the Kingdom of God and the Dream had been realized within the space and time and emotion of the church that night, then here on the outside the dream must not be so realized.

Of course there is progress, but the clear logic of last week’s events reminded me once again that, in regard to the Dream—MLK’s dream about the kids and the hand-holding—There is still some work to do.

Because they don’t make shows like “A Different World” anymore. And because if the Kingdom of God and Dream exist inside the space of the church, what does that say about outside?

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