Teens: King’s our role model

King had a dream, but he wasn’t a dreamer, a speaker said.



YOUNGSTOWN — For Rukiya Fleming, a first step toward achieving significant social change is to view Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other prominent figures as human, not superhuman.

“Ordinary people can do extraordinary things,” the Chaney High School senior said.

King also is a role model to 16-year-old East High School junior Kyonia Johnson, who will take part in an effort later this month at her school to register other students to vote.

“I want the younger people to know Martin Luther King would want them to fight and follow their dreams,” she said.

Rukiya and Kyonia were among students who attended Monday’s 25th annual community workshop, titled “A Spiritual Journey: The Road to Peace and Freedom,” at First Presbyterian Church of Youngstown, 201 Wick Ave.

The three-hour program, sponsored by the Martin Luther King Planning Committee of Mahoning County, was set up to honor the life and legacy of the civil rights leader. It focused largely on young people and featured a panel group that discussed several current issues related to social justice and empowering young people, as well as a march.

This generation will be instrumental in seeing King’s legacy come closer to fulfillment, predicted Jasamine Driskell, 18, who’s also a Chaney senior. Many people in their teens and 20s are trying to establish or cultivate value systems in accordance to King’s own, she noted.

It was mostly young people — including King himself — who organized the civil rights movement in the 1950s and ‘60s, noted the Rev. Orlando Chaffee, the event’s keynote speaker. King’s activism and theology were shaped mainly by his roots in the Baptist church as well as by injustices he saw occurring to many blacks in the South, said the Rev. Mr. Chaffee, district superintendent of United Methodist , Mahoning Valley District.

“Martin Luther King made history, but history made Martin Luther King,” he added.

Mr. Chaffee said that King “had a dream, but was not a dreamer.” Those who have a vision for social change need to know that it requires tremendous responsibility, and they should expect disappointment and obstacles while making sacrifices to achieve it, he continued.

Mr. Chaffee cited as an example King’s trying but failing in 1964 to persuade President Lyndon Johnson to pass a voting rights act; the president didn’t feel it was the right time for such legislation, he said.

So King helped organize the famous 50-mile march from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery, which contributed to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Mr. Chaffee pointed out.

About 10 years earlier, he continued, King required anyone wishing to become a member of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery to be a registered voter. King was a minister there in the 1950s.

Much progress has been made since King’s day, but many issues he spoke about more than 40 years ago still need to be addressed more thoroughly, Mr. Chaffee said. They include having universal health care, establishing an education system to help all pupils reach their full potential, correcting injustices within the justice system, building more self-sufficient neighborhoods and focusing more on community policing, he noted.

Making up the discussion panel were Jimma McWilson, president and chief executive officer of the Family Empowerment Student Achievement Institute; Marva Griffin, hearing officer with the Mahoning County Juvenile Court; Atty. Yulanda McCarty-Harris, director of Youngstown State University’s Equal Opportunity and Diversity office; Thomas Conley, president and CEO of the Greater Warren/Youngstown Urban League; Atty. Bonnie Deutsch Burdman, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council; and Keith Logan, a YSU graduate student.

Many in the group pointed to receiving a good education, going to the polls to vote, organizing and getting involved in the community as ways to empower young people. Parents also must be more proactive and interested in the schools their children attend, some said.

After the panel discussion was a march from the church to the school administration building and back. The march was led by the East High School Marching Band. The outdoor event was a throwback to the civil rights marches in the 1960s and was set up in part to give participants a sense of what it was like to call attention to the need for social change.