Martin Luther King Day, where do we go from here

Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Rev. Dr Clanton C.W. Dawson Jr. delivers a speech at the First United Methodist Church Monday, Jan. 18, about where society is headed in the future, and what we can take from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's speech on that same topic in 1967.

A wide number of groups and individuals gathered at the First Methodist Church Monday Morning Jan. 18, to celebrate the works and achievements of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as well as to reflect on the progress society has made and ponder where the future will take society moving forward. The event began with breakfast, various prayers from the audience and a selection of dance and skit performances. To shed light on the dream Dr. King had and to explore where we are in society today as well as where we are headed was guest speaker, The Rev. Dr. Clanton C.W. Dawson Jr.

Dawson began his speech by elaborating on the direction the future may hold, and discussed the meaning behind Dr. Kings speech delivered in 1967. The theme is "Where do we go from here," highlighting that simply to be tolerant may not be enough to move forward productively.

"I Come from two tracks," Dawson said. "I come theoretically from an understanding of how it is, we are where we are right now and I also come, experientially ... I'm old enough to remember when there were two water fountains, when you had to get your lunch, your dinner, your breakfast, not from the front door or at the table, but you had to get it at the door or the back window."

A group of dancers from the Power House Ministry perform at the Martin Luther King Day ceremony at the First United Methodist Church Monday, Jan. 18 (Lucas Johnson/Democrat-News)

Dawson elaborated on many changes that have occurred over the years, recalling events in his own life where racial disparity left impressionable memories. One instance he recalled was the the required written test black men and women had to pass in order to vote.

"There used to be a time that African-Americans in this country had to take a test," Dawson said. "You had to be able to state the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble ... certain portions of the Gettysburg Address, in fact in the county where my mother and father was they were real slick and cruel. They would make you do the Gettysburg Address and then they would make you say it backwards."

Dawson then spoke about some of Dr. King's notable speeches from the 1960s drawing light to the problems that plagued society, and those still prevalent today. He then posed a question, where do we go from here? Dawson asserted that Dr. King believed as a society we were at a tipping point, one in which we would fall together or plunge back into chaos.

"Remember Aristotle says ... in book one paragraph one of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle says all human activity is aimed toward some goal," Dawson said. "And we need to find out what the goal is."

In today's time, Dawson asserted that we need to find out where we are, where society stands and where current events are taking us. Explaining his observances further, Dawson said some day to day issues he sees in the town where he currently resides, Columbia.

"There are no restaurants that say colored only," Dawson said. "But, when I go to the restaurant ... I'm never greeted by a person of color as a greeter. There are no people of color as waitresses or waiters. All the people of color are in the back."

Dawson further stated that today nobody tells him in what part of town he can live. However, he notices in Columbia there are certain sections of town that have had significant funding poured into those areas, while other areas of town receive little finding for development. Dawson also asserted that in America, when "Pookey, Ray-Ray and Shequika" go to school they are labeled as trouble makers at a very young age, which then follows them throughout their educational career.

"They get in trouble in the third grade," Dawson said. "And then it's placed in their record that they're a trouble maker, and then by the fifth grade they've worked their way up to two-day and three-day suspension ... Schools every place I've been, you miss three days of school, you are behind."

Dawson stated that by the time these children reach their sophomore year in high school they don't know enough to do pass exams, and coupled with their reputation of being a trouble maker these children end up quitting school only to work dead-end jobs, or worse--end up in jail.

" ... Notice that penitentiaries are growing faster than we're building educational institutions, and what's happened is school now has become the pipeline to the penitentiary," Dawson said.

Using the rising development of prison complexes, Dawson shared another example of discrimination, stating that in states like Florida, the majority of road and highway maintenance was conducted by inmates who were used as laborers when performing highway maintenance.

Posing the question again, "where do we go from here?" Dawson stated where he believes we are today.

"We are in a place where it's reminiscent of four lepers who stood at the gate of Samaria," Dawson said. "They were unwanted, they were outcasts, they were told they were just like everybody else but they were lepers."

Further elaborating on the example, he stated we could go backward, stay as we are, or move forward in what he described as the "enemies camp."

"Martin King took us from segregation to an idea of integration ... he was doing the best he could, but the idea of integration was 'if I look like, act like, speak like, dress like anglo folk, then I would be accepted in anglo culture," Dawson said. "But we need more than integration ... the movement needs to be inclusion/equality."

He further stated that what the real movement is about is who is included and "sits at the head of the table."

Dawson expressed the necessity of creating communities where all are accepted regardless of their differences.

"We believe in and aspire to create the kind of community where every human being would be judged by what Aristotle called "arete," an excellence of character, he said in a previous news article.

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