Rochester leaders reflect on Dr. King’s legacy – and how to further it
ROCHESTER, N.Y. – On this day 55 years ago, the world lost a giant.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fell to an assassin’s bullet as he stood on a hotel balcony in Mephis.
For many, April 4th is a day of reflection and introspection.
News10NBC’s Deanna Dewberry sat down with Black local leaders from our past, present, and our future to ask, “What would you tell Martin Luther King about the current state of civil rights?”
The question is simple. The answer is not.
That’s why Dewberry sought the multi-generational perspective of 25-year-old Brittany Read, a nonprofit executive director; Virgil Parker, also 25 and chair of the MLK Commission; former Rochester Mayor Bill Johnson, 80; and Rochester’s current mayor, 43-year-old Malik Evans.
“The mainstreaming of racism and anti-Semitism has been absolutely astonishing in the last couple of years,” Evans said. “I think there’s more that, people are more bold. It was covert before. I think now it’s more overt.”
And the root of that racism, says Johnson, is misplaced blame.
“That’s why you have so many poor white people walking around with guns talking about anarchy. Because they have recognized that the system has not done anything for them. Now the problem with that is they look at Virgil and me and you and say, ‘You’re the reason why I haven’t advanced,'” Johnson said.
He says the issue instead is the huge concentration of wealth in the hands of a few – an issue Dr. King recognized in 1968.
“At the time of his death, Martin Luther King was broadening his perspective, and beyond civil rights for blacks and beginning to focus on the fact that the country was full of poor people: poor Blacks, poor whites, poor Latinos,” Johnson said.
“Poverty is the problem that we still deal with particularly in Rochester, when you look at us having five of the poorest zip codes in New York State,” Evans said.
Ours is a city where nearly half of its children live in poverty, a quarter read at grade level, and just one-fifth are proficient in math.
“I think it starts with talking to the young people,” Parker said.
He should know. As 25-year-old college-educated native Rochesterians, he and Read both lead their perspective organizations.
News10NBC’s Deanna Dewberry: “You are a young man who is inspiring because you have been inspired. What inspired you?”
Virgil Parker: “The Mayor Bill Johnsons, the Simeon Bannisters, the Vernon Jordans, the Dr. Kings, people who have dedicated their lives to finding the need to address structural inequalities.”
“There are young people that are ready to be activated, and I think we even saw that during COVID and during the pandemic with the young people who came out during COVID and across the world to protest and were ready to foster change,” Parker continued.
And that is the complicated answer to that simple question.
There is much to be done, Dr. King. But look how far we’ve come. Young changemakers following your lead, making community betterment their life’s work: the embodiment of your dream realized.
If you would like to be a part of continuing Dr. King’s legacy, the MLK Commission is looking for a diversity of voices to join the conversation. You can apply to join the commission by emailing email@example.com.
If you’d like to donate, you can do so here.