Student calls for seeing King’s dream 20/20 through a new lens
Saron Legesse Zemedkun, president of the Black Student Union and student at Ferris High School, read an original essay, “The Dream Through a New Lens” during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Rally Jan. 20. She moved to Spokane from Ethiopia in East Africa when she was four years old.
With this year being 2020, “the numerical expression for healthy vision,” she asked, “Through what lens do we see America?”
Saron said King dreamed in 1963 of a day when former slaves and former slave owners would sit together in brotherhood, and people would be judged by character, not skin color.
In the America he saw, blacks were denied equal rights, civil liberties, a seat on a bus, fair housing, employment opportunities and voting rights.
Has his dream “become blurred or do we need new lenses to see that change has come, disguised as equality with no equity?” Saron asked, noting that “we are not equal” until there is equal value to minority businesses, equal pay for women, and government hiring reflects demographics—“as simple as school teachers and administrators who look like me.”
As a young black woman, she is troubled by African Americans experiencing deprivation and despair because of being labeled by mainstream society.
“Black Americans have to work twice as hard to get half as far as white colleagues,” she said.
“Internalized colorism and systemic racism” affect status and create assumptions so being black means to some being a criminal, she said, pointing out that King believed “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Blacks are “the most unprotected race in America,” resulting in a high mortality rate for black males ages 15 to 34, who are nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by law enforcement.
“We are constantly told how to walk, talk and dress so we don’t draw suspicious advances,” Saron said.
King was not silent about the killings of Emmett Till or Medgar Evers, or about lynchings or Jim Crowe laws.
Her generation is frowned on for challenging the killings of Travon Martin, Eric Gardner, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Botham Jean or Atatiana Jefferson.
“Social injustice is a threat to us and the fabric of the U.S. Constitution when we ignore it,” she said, challenging those who are silent and inviting America into a future where “peace and love overpower evil and hatred” and where all people regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or political belief “can stand united and honor the creed that all are created equal.”
Saron said the expression that Black Lives Matter will not be offensive when there is equal value to expressions that white lives, blue lives, brown, yellow and red lives matter.
“All lives matter,” she said, calling for marching for freedom, looking through lenses with “20/20 vision of an America where everyone has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
NAACP leader calls people to link arms
Kiantha Duncan spoke at the 2020 MLK Day rally on behalf of the NAACP Spokane, making a point that it’s not just an organization for poor people or black people.
“It’s your organization whoever you are,” she said, inviting people to become involved.
She invited people in the Convention Center to connect elbows or join hands to symbolize the connection of each person in the room as they honor King.
“I hope we live his beliefs and dreams every day,” said Kiantha, who is program manager with Empire Health. “If not, we need to check ourselves. We need to look out for others, including people we do not know.”
Linking arms, she said, demonstrates what connectedness in the community looks like for all humankind—“everybody in here and everybody not in here. It’s about our shared goal for every person in the world.
“That means we are to care for those who are homeless and those who are housed. We are to care for immigrants seeking refuge and those who were born here. We are to care for all members of the LGBTQ community. We are to care for people in prisons, even those who committed crimes,” Kiantha said.
“King did not exclude anyone. He was for all of us,” she said, inviting people to look at those sitting beside them and say, “You are important to the world, to the Spokane community and the global community.”
Kiantha advised for people to care about their brothers and sisters, not just themselves because the times may change, and the one they do not care about “may one day be the one to care about us.”
Some are conservative and some are liberal, she said.
“We may disagree with someone, and it may be hard to come together, but if we do that, if we stay connected and care about all individuals in the community and world, Spokane can change the world,” Kiantha said.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, February, 2020