By CHARITY CHUKWU
The Dallas Examiner
In an exploration and demonstration of the Black community in Dallas, the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center continued its annual Black History Month celebration with its first virtual presentation. The showcase marked the importance to continue building on the achievements of Black leaders, while recognizing that firm action has been needed to eradicate the barriers of racism and discrimination in modern society.
The theme for this year was The Fierce Urgency of Now.
“It speaks of continuing the accomplishments of those that we’ve seen from years past who have carried us to this point where we are. Even when we didn’t have the privilege of voting yet had the right to vote but was denied that. All the way through the Voting Right Act of 1965,” said Pastor Donna Slater, board member of the MLK Community Center.
Part one of the celebration premiered Feb. 12 with keynote speaker pastor and author Dr. Michael M. Waters. He spoke about the inspiration for his book Something in the Water. Waters recalled his experience speaking at a festival in Virginia Beach two months prior to the 400th anniversary of the first African Americans brought to Jamestown.
“That juxtaposition by the waters that carried my ancestors, the water that serves as graves for so many of our ancestors with so many Black and Brown faces performing the present struggles of today demanded that I talk about the something in the water that has been present throughout our experience of the toxicity of the harm that is caused across many generations,” Waters said.
He believed that to create the leaders of tomorrow, the community needs to make sure children are knowledgeable about the past.
“We can educate our children. That is the most powerful thing we can do is to make sure that our children know our history, know the genius of our people, understand their own unique genius and creativity and are empowered to pursue their dreams,” he said.
Throughout the presentation, there were powerful performances including poetry from spoken word artist Jiles King and his company and ending with a performance from the Bandan Koro African drum and dance ensemble. Black owned organizations such as the MLK Child Care Group, Family Care Connection, First Choice Social Services and the Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce were also given a chance to shine as they showed their important contributions to Dallas community.
It ended with a portrait tour of the Wall of Remembrance led by MLK Museum Curator Emma Rodgers. She recounted the brutal murder of Emmitt Till on Aug. 28, 1955, and then the purposeful planning of the later historic events like March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963 and the democratic presidential nomination of then Sen. Barack Obama in 2008 on the same date.
Rodgers then stressed the importance of the women who were central to organizing the Montgomery Bus Boycott and how after 381 days of merchants losing money, the U.S. Supreme Court declared segregated seating unconstitutional.
Part two of the celebration continued Feb. 19. It began with an inspirational musical performance by Chasity, Moriah and Bethany Bass singing I Can Only Imagine.
For the main discussion of the event, Rodgers sat down with Rev. Richie Butler, pastor and founder of Project Unity. They discussed how his organization has brought together communities that don’t normally interact with each other. His programs under Project Unity, such as Together We Ball, helped create common ground with law enforcement through sports.
“Everybody is in the same uniform and it takes officers out of uniform and it just humanizes us all,” Butler said.
“Out of our Together We Learn program, Sen. West authored a bill that is now a law that requires students to be trained and educated on how to interact with law enforcement and also part of that law requires law enforcement, when they go back for their firearms recertification, that they’re supposed to go through similar training.”
He said he hoped that the legislation and training would reduce the number of officer-involved shootings. The dialogue continued around white supremacy and systems that disproportionally affect Black people. Butler then talked about evolving his programs to incorporate the threat of the coronavirus by adding a Together We Test partnership with physicians and labs to get people tested in churches.
“We set up testing at those locations for Black and Brown community residents and this was before the city and others were. I mean you have the Davis Field House but nothing in the community, and also we were doing it where you didn’t have to have symptoms,” he said.
Other organizations highlighted included Miles of Freedom whose services help provide for people impacted by incarceration and Foremost Family Health Center who assist with medical, dental and behavioral health care services. Also, nonprofits such as Carters’ House, a clothing bank for children and teens, and Empowering the Masses, which provides everything from food to job training to the people of South and East Dallas, spoke briefly about their causes.
The afternoon ended with a culinary demonstration by chef Art Wilson and an interpretive dance number with four Black boys wearing Black Lives Matter t-shirts. Both presentations are available to view at https://dallasmlkcenter.com/black-history-month.