What would Dr. Martin Luther King have to say if he was alive today?
One distinguished scholar has a theory.
Saint Leo University hosted Dr. T. Leon Williams on Jan. 16 for a presentation he called: “The View from the Mountaintop: What Would Dr. King Say Today?”
Williams is a North Carolina minister and former multicultural affairs director at Elon University.
He began a series of monologues in 1999, in the vein of MLK — with the hope of educating students on the life and legacy of the celebrated civil rights leader.
Though it’s been nearly 50 years since King’s assassination in 1968, Williams said America is still struggling with many of the same issues that confronted the nation a half-century ago.
Williams cited numerous systemic problems, including racial tension, gun violence, black-on-black crime, police brutality, and poverty.
Because of the continuing issues, Williams said the country is still in the midst of the civil rights movement.
“If (King) was here today — based on what we see today on TV — I think he would just be devastated,” Williams said. “I think Dr. King would be saying, ‘America, we have fallen apart, and we’ve got to get it together.”
During his hour-long presentation, Williams assumed the persona of King, reflecting on the historical relevance of America’s progress on race divisions.
During the talk, Williams claimed injustice and inequality has drawn a line of division in race relations and the distribution of wealth in America.
The speaker later challenged the audience to accept a moral and social responsibility for promoting peace and harmony.
He urged them: “Ask ‘What is my responsibility in reshaping the world?’”
The biggest challenge, however, is for members of the audience to love another — regardless of race or class.
“The problem in our world today is that we have very little remembrance of what love is,” Williams said. “Love is caring for homeless and those less fortunate. Love is feeding the hungry. Love is obedience over sacrifice. Love neutralizes the weapons of hate.”
Williams, too, advised the audience to open themselves up to new ideas. He encouraged them to read information that might differ from their current point-of-view.
In studying King’s legacy, Williams said he was inspired by King’s internal struggle of “loving a country that intentionally — publicly — didn’t love him.”
“It had to be very troubling for King to love on America, ask supporters to stand with him, and be attacked daily,” Williams explained.
Since embarking on a nationwide speaking tour over 15 years ago, Williams said race issues have experienced numerous “peaks and valleys.”
He believes the country, unfortunately, is currently in a one of those “valleys.”
Williams pointed to rampant gun violence, particular in cities like Chicago, which experienced 762 murders in 2016. He also noted the rise of ambush killings of police officers, which rose to 21 last year, up from six in 2015.
“There are a lot of shining moments, then last year was a horrible year. It was just a rough time,” said Williams.
“Even after having a black president elected, we still have a ton of issues.”
Williams said he remains uncertain about the direction of race relations under the presidency of newly-elected Donald Trump.
“I don’t see a strong presence of a civil rights mindset; it is a corporate mindset,” Williams said, referencing Trump and his Cabinet nominees. “There’s…some energy and hostility from his campaign already generated. We don’t know where this is going now.”
Notable quotes Dr. T. Leon Williams’ monologue
- “I believe this generation, unlike no other generation, is prepared and ready to lead the nation toward freedom every day. You’ve labored in love instead of malice; concern instead of resentment.”
- “This generation, unlike the former, is willing to be on the receiving end of the water hose. This generation…is willing to contest police brutality by standing between the billy club and the usual suspects. This generation…is prepared to heal itself.”
- “It is my belief that one of the reasons why America has failed to reconcile racial tension is because America has coerced the victims of racism and discrimination to view brokenness as life.”
- “In order for this nation to take the next step toward greatness, reconciliation must be the first order of business for the oppressor.”
- “When I think back to the ’60s, fiery eyes and frown brows reflected courage and hope. Since then, many of us have campaigned for reconciliation, despite truth. And as a result, our courage and hope has turned into anger and hopelessness.”
- “Nonviolence is not a retreat from confrontation, but rather a confrontation in the form of disobedience.”
Published January 25, 2017