Among the many amazing human qualities exemplified by Martin Luther King Jr. during his fight in the civil rights movement, persistence and determination were two key factors that allowed him to influence so many in a positive way.
At the Martha’s Vineyard National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (MV NAACP) annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day luncheon, that spirit of tenacious resilience in the face of immense opposition seemed to guide each guest speaker’s presentation.
First, Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School English teacher James Jennings spoke about his time spent in student power workshops, mentoring today’s students.
During his time working at a New York public school, he saw many bright minds overlooked because of racism, he said. “The students who were often voiceless and bumping against the edges, they were actually our talented leaders. But because of their race or their situation, they might not have the same opportunities,” Jennings said.
At the student power workshops, Jennings said, students were encouraged to pursue their dreams, and were provided networking opportunities and unique connections to help them reach those goals.
“Maybe a kid wants to be a basketball player. Instead of laughing or giving statistics, we try to use our network to get these young people going in the right direction,” Jennings said.
Jennings said he encourages young people not to be dissuaded by the apathy of others, and to initiate the change you want to see in the world.
“I don’t understand complaining. Is the world how you want it to be? If so, what are you doing to preserve it?” Jennings said. “If the world isn’t how you want it to be, what are you doing to change it?”
LaSella Hall, president of the NAACP New Bedford chapter, called the NAACP the “oldest, boldest, and baddest organization in the United States in regards to civil rights.”
According to Hall, the spirit of the organization is to uplift the souls of black people while combating racism and violence. At one point, Hall turned to the audience and asked a question: “Is the NAACP still relevant?”
Many in the room shouted, “Of course,” but Hall said the NAACP is needed now more than ever before.
“Is there economic stability in black communities? Do all communities of color have access to premium and primary healthcare? Is public safety safe in all of our communities? Do you believe the legal justice system is just? If you are saying no to all these things, the NAACP is still very relevant,” Hall said.
For Hall, King’s unrelenting strength of character was exemplified perfectly in his last speech before his assassination, titled “I have been to the Mountaintop.”
“Before he gave that speech, King was tired, mentally exhausted, spiritually strong, and emotionally drained. But he felt he was meant to serve the downtrodden, and those pushed to the fringe,” Hall said.
Courage was one quality that Hall said all the great civil rights activists, both past and present, must possess in order to keep progressing on their path to righteousness and justice.
“To put all your time and energy and resources toward a cause that is larger than yourself takes great courage. It takes courage to love, it takes courage to forgive, it takes courage to fight,” Hall said.
Instead of sitting idly by and being a passive proponent for the rights of African American people, Hall suggested folks take it upon themselves to speak up if they see injustice in any form.
“When you see foolishness occurring, you have to call it out for what it is,” Hall said. “If it’s racism, call it racism, if it’s xenophobia, call it xenophobia.”
Hall said he and many others in the NAACP speak and fight for those who were never given a voice, whether in the current day, or in the days of Martin Luther King Jr.
“I speak and fight for my grandmother. She was born in North Carolina, where she couldn’t speak for herself. I fight for my great-grandmother, who was born into sharecropping, and could not speak for her race or her gender,” Hall said.
In the next decade, Hall said, many challenges await African Americans and minorities in their fight for equality. But he said the legacies of those like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, and John Lewis will serve as powerful motivation for new civil rights activists and changemakers.
“In this next decade, we must continue to fight the same fight our forefathers and our ancestors fought,” Hall said. “We must continue to do what we have always done, which is, Don’t let anyone turn us around.”