February 7, 2002

Cornell Events Take a Look at King Legacy

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The annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration hosted by Cornell this week involved two events featuring several distinguished leaders of the African American community. The events included a lecture by leading civil rights activist Rev. Amos C. Brown, and a panel discussion on black political empowerment.

Brown, pastor of the Third Baptist Church in San Francisco, addressed the Cornell community on Tuesday in Sage Chapel, on issues concerning the fallout from Sept. 11 and its impact on racial quality.

Brown compared the spirit of reform and cultural advancement during the 1950’s and 1960’s, which was in part spurred by Dr. King, to the current situation in America. The country, according to Brown, is at a moment in which great social and cultural change is possible, but the opportunity has not been fully taken advantage of.

While Brown supports fighting against terrorism, he also warns, “We ought to look within before we look without. I feel that this country should defend [itself], but when in this nation we can recognize what is central and what is important, we can offensively get rid of this nonsense.”

Believing that Americans must question their own responsibility in the attacks, Brown discussed how America must make an effort to understand people of different cultures and not live in isolation.

Brown saluted King for “looking out to other faith traditions” and not permitting religious imperialism to cloud his dream. He suggested that Americans should follow this example by accepting Islam and other religions.

According to Brown, American indifference to the rest of the world was a major cause of the attacks.

“People in third-world countries have been treated as dogs; dogs with no culture; dogs with no respectable religion. Unfortunately, without applauding it, I say that those dogs, though they cannot be justified, have fractured our foundation,” Brown said.

“Even though our foundation has been fractured, truth will rise again. Hopefully we will create a society where there will be no more of these incidents,” he added.

According to Brown, “silence is our greatest enemy, and it is essential to have an open dialogue between citizens and the government in order to address the issues of terrorism and foreign policy…. Governments are made up of people, and we ought to be able to call our government into question.”

Government and civil liberties were also the topics of the second event in Cornell’s commemoration of King, a panel discussion held yesterday. The discussion entitled “African American Political Empowerment: Preparing for 2004.” included Brown and three other leaders of the African American community.

The panelists discussed a wide range of topics, including terrorism and national security, affirmative action, reparations, and racial profiling.

Rev. Kenneth Clarke, director of Cornell United Religious Work (CURK), acted as moderator and began by asking questions concerning the political climate in the United States, the impact of the terrorist attacks and the economy on African Americans, and his “concern about the erosion of civil liberties” of the other participants.

Dorothy Cotton, director of student activities, discussed her alarm about what she believes are security and privacy breaches under the auspices of preventing terrorism.

Cotton cited the Bush administration’s decision to hold military tribunals as violating the rights of accused terrorists, which could potentially spread to other people accused of crimes if not kept in check.

“In the tribunal, the military acts as judge, jury, and executioner. Shouldn’t we, as citizens, be concerned that we are serving as models for the justice systems of the world?” questions Cotton. “I feel that this is almost as scary as potential terrorist acts.”

One panelist, Prof. James Turner, Africana studies, addressed issues other than those relating to the terrorist attacks on the United States.

As founder of the Africana Studies and Research Center, Turner identified affirmative action and disunity among blacks as being key factors in the elections of 2002 and 2004.

“We must have unity over the broad agenda of civil rights,” Turner said.

The black community, according to Turner, must agree on objectives to be successful in making a difference in the struggle for equality.

Brown also spoke again on the impact of Sept. 11, but also about the current political atmosphere and its relation to religion.

“The black church has been our base, our hope, and as we look towards 2004, we must not let any political power compromise the black church in America,” Brown said.

According to Brown, the recent faith-based initiatives bill introduced by the Bush administration, which was passed in the House of Representatives but has been stalled in the Senate, will weaken African American churches.

Since other religions already have non-profit groups which are not directly affiliated with the respective churches, Brown stated, “we must understand that if no new money is available, black churches will start fighting with already established [non-profit] organizations [for funds].”

Brown raised the issue of reparations, and stated that the black community should not support a presidential candidate in 2004 unless reparations are “put on the front burner.” Brown was heavily involved in the issue when he represented the National Board of the NAACP as a delegate to the 2001 United Nations Conference on Race and Intolerance in Durban, South Africa.

According to Brown, with the United States not sending representatives to the conference, the U.S. government has not adequately addressed the issue, and it should be brought to national attention.

The two events were sponsored by CURK, the Africana Studies and Research Center, the Center for Religion, Ethics, and Social Policy, the Office of the Dean of Students, the Religious Studies Program, the Public Service Center, and the Office of the Vice Provost for Diversity and Faculty Development.

Archived article by Mackenzie Damon