Chevrolet’s final installment of the Table of Brotherhood project, the vision of progressive unity that crossed racial and gender lines that Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of in his “I Have a Dream” speech, took place over the weekend in Washington, D.C., and in the shadow of Hurricane Irene.
The hurricane did not steal the panel’s thunder, however, as the star-studded panelists (including Laz Alonso, Arianna Huffington and Debra Lee of BET, among others), was decidedly up-front and personal about the issues that affect the human race and the black race in particular.
A heated topic of discussion was how do you inspire the old-school warrior and the new-school soldier to join ranks and fight the good fight for jobs and economic equality?
Panelist Laz Alonso stated that the older generation should connect with the younger generation on Twitter to inspire change.
Further, media mavens Debra Lee of BET and Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post encouraged the audience to open their eyes to the plight of those around them.
“There are 25 million unemployed or underemployed and I hope that this celebration will create that sense of urgency,” Huffington said. “How can we bring that sense of urgency to what is needed?”
Lee cautioned that in order to move forward, African Americans must not spend too much time looking back. “I hope we don’t leave here totally romanticizing our past history. Our past history is important, it has gotten us a long way, and I grew up in civil rights. … As this world changes and as young people (and a little older than young people) change, we have to keep trying. We have to understand what the public policy is, and what we’re trying to change, and what we’re trying to accomplish,” she said.
Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. said a policy change is in order if the disenfranchised are going to get their seat at the table of opportunity.
“The issue of poverty is real,” Rev. Jackson said. “When Jennifer Hudson’s family was murdered, we held a prayer vigil in the street and I saw the little gangbangers approaching with their tams on. One said, ‘Rev. Jackson, I want to get well, but they closed the detox center.’ That’s public policy. Another stepped up and said, ‘Reverend, we can’t get a job.’ And as I embraced them to figure out what to say to them, I [realized that] sometimes, they would get five meals a week. In jail, they would get 21 meals a week. For them, jail is a step up.”
The conversation shifted to tolerance, and radio personality Ray Baker spoke of the inherent cultural differences that have prevented unity.
“As humans, folks want to have serious and meaningful conversations with one another, but they’re stepping on each other’s toes out of sincere ignorance,” Baker stated. “How can I expect to learn if I don’t ask? But when I ask I can’t ask from a place of conversation. I can’t ask from a place of arrogance, I have to ask from a place of humility. And so what I bring is what I can add culturally to the conversation; and what she brings is what she can add culturally to the conversation … and we’re all better people because of it.”
To thunderous applause, Rev. Dennis Wiley pledged his support for a group historically ostracized in the African American community. “I unashamedly, unequivocally, and unapologetically come to this table as a straight, male, African American Christian minister of the Gospel, on behalf of my lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered brothers and sisters, not because it is safe, politic or popular for me to do so; but because I believe it is right.”
Rev. Wiley added: “We just could not fathom how those of us, who have been the victims of segregation, exclusion, discrimination and oppression, could turn around and segregate, exclude, discriminate and oppress somebody else. … The labeling of people is one of the most dangerous things.”
“I speak to encourage children, especially underprivileged children, which I was once on their side looking up at people who had careers, who had success who had money, and asked, ‘how do I get to where you are? How do I one day, not be poor?’ ” Alonso said. “My mission would be to encourage entrepreneurship; to encourage financial freedom for children. Go on the Internet and research, you can make money doing what you love, and I stand here before you, being someone who does that.”
For more highlights from Chevrolet’s historic Table of Brotherhood Project, please visit www.chevrolet.com/MLK.