Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Off page: Soledad visits Vt.

I've been toying with the idea of a second blog to post non-comics related items (primarily sports and politics). Until then, you'll find posts here that are off-topic but hopefully still interesting. And so...

CNN anchor and special correspondent Soledad O’Brien spoke at an MLK event at the University of Vermont on Tuesday. Having just returned from Haiti, much of her talk focused on what's happening there in the wake of the earthquake.

However, she was able to weave that story into King's legacy. She explained that King's key message went beyond just having a dream for equality for blacks. King's message was really justice for all; it was for an individual to look at someone else's circumstances and decide something needs to be done to help, even when there is no direct relationship. O'Brien gave many current examples where we can apply that thinking.

She shared high school drop-out rate statistics for Latinos and African-Americans, saying that 2000 schools produced 85 percent of the country's drop-outs. O'Brien compared that with the growing population of Latinos in the U.S. Does anyone see this as a problem, she wondered. Can anyone else hear the alarm bells going off?

Steps need to be taken immediately to fix public education to stave off an even larger storm. We have a starting point with those 2000 schools, she noted. So what seems like a huge undertaking, could be broken into smaller chunks, starting with 100, then another, then another. A large populace of undereducated Americans -- whatever their race -- is not beneficial to the country's welfare.

The situation is a perfect test subject, if you will, for King's plan. So you're not a person of color and your kids don't go to public school, but by helping them you make your country better. There's no time to wait, echoing one of King's key points "the fierce urgency of now."
And choosing to help will require the "dangerous unselfishness" King spoke of, being able to face uncomfortable situations to reach a collective goal.

O'Brien showed clearly how King's words remain relevant. She reminded the students, faculty, and community members how we have to look beyond the T-shirt ready catch phrases, and get to the meat of what King was trying to accomplish. Haiti is just one example, with its decades of neglect creating a weak infrastructure that lies exposed in the rubble. People need to be able to look beyond their own immediate horizon, to other other countries, cultures, social circles, and to feel it's OK to say "that's not right" and act.

King professed and practiced a servant leadership, one which showed that those "at the top" were willing to sacrifice and do the same as those who were following. They went to jail, he went to jail. They faced persecutions, he was persecuted. He didn't just watch the followers suffer, he suffered, too. Why? Because as a leader he was serving the common goal, not an individual one. There were times in her coverage of Hurricane Katrina, O'Brien said, that made it easy to see when that kind of leadership doesn't happen. She recalled how several times she walked by a dead man covered in a blanket outside the convention center. That's all that could -- or would -- be done for him, cover him up. Where was the empathy? The strong desire to do better by him?

I appreciated O'Brien's frankness, her willingness, even as an impartial reporter, to say this is wrong or this isn't right. I was impressed by her family's fortitude. She shared stories of her sister's struggles against sexism and racism and how it didn't stop from her attaining her educational goals. Of her parents, who had to endure being an illegally married bi-racial couple in Maryland. And yet, they always told their children that it was worth it because "we know America is better than that." Even when they were being spit on, they believed the promise of America was so much bigger. "The way it is is not the way it has to be," O'Brien's parents would tell them. It's the key to their success, she said. It's also a crucial component of King's message.

I couldn't help smiling when O'Brien read some of the not-so-well know portions of King's speeches, which happen to be some of my favorite lines. She was the second person I'd heard recently reminding us to dig deeper into his speeches, his mission, his legacy.
I'm glad I got to hear it.

No comments: