The struggle has a better chance of success when those who are struggling for justice realize they are struggling for the same thing and work together. Realizing that justice cuts across not only racial and ethnic boundaries, but geographical boundaries as well. The commonality of struggle is what makes it important for those in the trenches to support the efforts and sacrifices of those who may be battling in other trenches, but realizing the connection.
At its core, this was the message of the 17th Annual MLK Jr. Scholarship banquet, hosted last month by the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee at Byblos Banquet Hall in Dearborn. Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, currently the host of BET News as well as a political contributor for CNN, was the keynote speaker, and he drilled home the message of common struggle to a largely appreciative audience.
“Some of us who work for justice put our firing squads in a circle; I’m doing my thing over here, you’re doing your thing over there, and we don’t connect our work together. That’s why I’m so excited to be here. Because there’s no way to talk about freedom for black folk, or freedom for Latinos if we don’t talk about freedom for Arabs and Muslims. There’s no way to talk about it,” he said.
“We have to see the connection between the local and the global.”
Hill also stressed the importance of struggling alone, pointing out that oftentimes those who have made the most difference did so in changing the world for the better did so much of the time going against the tide with little or no support for long periods of time.
“It’s OK to be alone. …86 percent of black folk in the United States did not march or participate in civil rights activism. 86 percent did not. And by participate, I mean participate in one action. Hold up one sign, go to one march, do one sit-in. Only 14 percent of the people did something. That means that during the worst kind of American apartheid, 86 percent of the people did not actively engage in resistance. So 86 percent of the people didn’t do nothing in 1965, what you think you’re gonna get in 2016? The issue is not whether we have thousands of people doing this work, it’s whether we have a small group of committed people who are willing to do this work. …Alone is OK.”
Professor Larycia Hawkins, who was presented with the Bridge Builder Award, is probably very familiar with that feeling. Hawkins, formerly an Associate Professor of Political Science at Wheaton College, resigned from her position after wearing a hijab in solidarity with Muslim women and suggesting that Muslims and Christians follow the same God. Her posts on Facebook lit a firestorm that eventually led to her decision to leave the college. Hawkins had been the first ever tenured female African American professor at Wheaton. During her brief acceptance speech, she said that one of her goals at Wheaton was to encourage her students to move beynd their “privileged paralysis.”
“I told them that our theoretical solidarity, our fist-raising, Facebook-liking, head-shaking, check-writing, blog typing social justice crusading from afar ain’t cuttin’ it. Theoretical solidarity is not solidarity at all.”
The Community Service Award was given to another courageous individual, now well-known throughout Michigan, but especially in Flint, for her actions in drawing attention to the quality of the drinking water in that city. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha also spearheaded the research that highlighted the crisis.
“Too often we are resigned to being quiet,” she said. “And when we see problems in our community – it doesn’t have to be a water crisis, it can be discrimination, it can be bullying, that happens in our community anywhere, it is our job to speak up. I spoke up because I had to speak up. There was no choice.”