The Martha’s Vineyard NAACP advocated for having open dialogue surrounding racial issues and creating legitimate plans to combat systemic racism in America at the group’s ceremony Monday to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
During the virtual event, a number of videos were shared by NAACP members, including Russell Ashton, Dr. Lorna Andrade, and the Rev. Mariama White-Hammond.
Rabbi Caryn Broitman started the ceremony with a traditional Jewish prayer which honors our ancestors and brings their memory into focus. “May the god who blessed our ancestors and blessed us with their memories bless all who are present today, who have come together in commitment to end the sin of racism, to ensure that Black lives matter in this country, and to build a beloved community affirming the dignity of all,” Broitman said.
Ashton said the disparity between how police treated those involved in the Capitol riots and those who were protesting during the Black Lives Matter demonstrations exemplifies the deep-seated racism in our country. “When people of color were demonstrating, not looting or anything else, just demonstrating, for our rights, and keeping people aware of what we are doing, we were slapped, disgraced, abused, and those people just walked into a building like they are privileged people,” Ashton said. “Well, guess what, NAACP and people of all colors are privileged, and we will still march on. This is our nation, our song, and I say ‘our song’ because how sweet it is when we can take it and sing together and make peace for everybody.”
White-Hammond, the founding pastor of New Roots AME Church in Dorchester and former master of ceremonies for the 2017 Boston Women’s March, said the fall of 2016 was a precursor to the past four years.
White-Hammond said she was helping plan an interfaith climate gathering in Boston when she got a call saying a young man she used to work with at Project Hip-Hop, an organization that brings young people together through arts and culture, had been shot.
In the summer, White-Hammond said, the man had been chosen to play the part of Martin Luther King Jr. in a play being staged by Project Hip-Hop.
“He was going to be doing an excerpt from Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail,’” White-Hammond said. “He got on the computer that day, watching every video of Dr. King, reading the “Letters from Birmingham Jail,” and almost had his excerpt memorized.”
Project Hip-Hop performed at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, and White-Hammond said when she saw the performance, and heard the words of Martin Luther King Jr. spoken in the jail, she was moved. “In so many ways, they had really embodied the spirit of MLK, of Rosa Parks, and so many who had dared to imagine something different and better was possible,” White-Hammond said.
White-Hammond said her friend’s commitment to justice and his desire for positive change was the very initiative that would have prevented his tragic death.
After that, the 2016 election happened, and White-Hammond said she was shocked, but became even more concerned when she saw the direction the country was headed.
“These last four years have been challenging, to watch children stripped away from their parents, to hear words and see symbols we never thought would march through our streets,” White-Hammond said.
But now, after all the tragedy, she said, there is no more hiding the truth, despite the endless attempts to suppress and distort it. “We recognize the moment we are in,” White-Hammond said. “We have seen an assault on truth, an inability to even come to a clear consensus on the facts before us. Now it sometimes feels like we are living on different planets — unable to agree on even the most basic of things.”
But with major issues facing this next generation, White-Hammond said, we as a human race must face our vulnerabilities, and realize that there is more connecting us than pulling us apart.
She added that people of the U.S. need to face the past, and look long and hard at the moment we are in, and where it may lead. “We as humans won’t live forever. The promise of justice is not, and has never been, real for all of us. We find ourselves still haunted by old demons that we as a nation have never quite dealt with,” White-Hammond said.
But according to her, the American people are “hungry for the opportunity to become a new society, one that lives up to the ideals that we profess, but have never lived perfectly.”
She asked individuals to first “imagine the dream” you wish to see, then go out and “be the dream that you hope for” by getting involved in activism or any other cause that benefits the whole of humanity.
In order to ensure a peaceful and forward-thinking future, White-Hammond said, young people need to be an active part of the conversation to steer away from antiquated and biased ways of thinking.
“We need to continue to make spaces for new voices, young voices — people who bring new opportunities and new innovations, new ways of making decisions more equitably, and new ways of distributing power and resources,” White-Hammons said. “That way, we can emerge from this moment better than we ever were.”