By Stan Ashbee
Sunny South News
Martin Luther King, III paid a visit to southern Alberta last week, as a featured guest speaker for the Greatness in Leadership conference at the Enmax Centre in Lethbridge. His speaker session was entitled, “I Have a Dream — Are You a Difference Maker?” He is a global humanitarian and son of the iconic Martin Luther King, Jr. King, the third, has devoted much of his adulthood to the continuance of his father’s mission of nonviolent conflict resolution.
As for the King legacy — in 1955, King’s father became a leader of the Montgomery bus boycott — which helped end the separation of blacks and whites on buses. In 1963, King’s father led the march on Washington and gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. In 1964, King’s father received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work. In 1965, King’s father led thousands of protesters 50 miles from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. In 1970, King’s father was assassinated. In 1986, on Nov. 2, a national holiday was proclaimed in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s honour.
King was part of a media scrum after his speaker session last Tuesday morning. One of the questions he was asked was in regards to his meeting with Donald Trump, prior to Trump’s United States presidential inauguration. During that time, the questioner noted, King suggested it was important to look forward and King was asked, “What is your assessment on how it’s going right now?”
“I think the administration has quickly got to learn Donald Trump is a business man, obviously a very successful business man, and never has been a politician. You’ve got to have a balanced kind of approach. It may have started off a little rocky. I would have to say my greatest concern is some of the appointments he has chosen do not necessarily reflect views I embrace. From the attorney general to the secretary of education — I think we have to see because I have to believe these individuals have to represent the American people and the American people, in theory, dictate what should happen. Now, I think the greatest one I’m most concerned about is the environmental protection director. As a cabinet level person, a person who fought EPA and has sued them many times and now to talk about dismantling the entity that protects your environment — your water and your air — that is of the greatest concern to me,” King said.
King pointed out there are many other issues including what is going to happen in communities in urban areas — whether it’s education, housing, or job creation.
“Those are things the president has said he wants to create opportunities for all people. If he’s able to do that, then that’s positive, but I don’t think you should do that and essentially ignore environmental concerns. I’m conflicted to some degree, but I think the jury is still out. I think we’re going to have to wait just to see. Obviously, there’s a lot of issues going on in the White House from the president accusing the former president of wire tapping. I mean it’s thing’s we’ve never seen. I don’t think we know what the outcome is going to be at this particular point. I think we have to continue to wait and see, but I also think we must be engaged in dialogue with the president to share what our concerns are. He’s already met, for example, with African American college and university presidents. I don’t know what the commitment has been yet, but he has had a meeting. There’s a whole series of meetings every week he’s doing with different people from business people to religious leaders — I just think we’re going to have to see,” he added.
One of the questions turned to the importance of Canada being a bastion of freedom, as a lot of people in America are crossing the border into Canada. The question asked was, “What about President Trump’s views on immigration?”
“I hope those views are going to be modified. I don’t know if the new provision they have put out, I’m not yet sure if that’s going to hold muster. I just think it’s challenging to have a position where you deny people access based on their religious orientation. I do think you have to have a system for vetting, everyone should be vetted thoroughly, but I don’t think you just deny whole groups of people. That was a campaign promise, so I would give why I may disagree with him. I would give him high marks for attempting to do what he said he was going to do,” he said.
Another issue — King said he believes Trump has to deal with figuring out how like business, business moves and things need to be done right now, but government acts differently. “Government is a grinding slow process. Again, you can push all you need to and that may be good for government, but again he’s got to learn how to matriculate through this thing called a ‘bureaucracy’ that — it takes time. I don’t agree with that policy, but hopefully it will be modified, so it is at least acceptable and maybe that’s where they’ll hit it,” he said.
Sunny South News had a chance to ask Mr. King a question too. “What would be the main message you would tell youth to create change in their community or globally?”
“I think the world is getting smaller. Although we have, it appears, the start of the Brexit and then the election in the United States and France and others will be having elections — the question is whether or not the people in every country are going to embrace very conservative right-wing leadership or whether they’re going to embrace some degree of progressiveness or moderate leadership? We don’t know how that’s going to unfold in other parts of the world. We obviously see with what Brexit has done and we have seen what has happened in the U.S. My only position would be we have got to come together as a world community and figure out how to co-exist without destroying either’s personal property. That doesn’t mean we can’t disagree on issues. We can have a lot of disagreements, but we have to learn how to disagree, as my father used to say, without being disagreeable, that’s a hard task. I think any young person, he or she has the opportunity to do whatever they want to. There’s never been as many opportunities as exist today, particularly in technology. I don’t think anyone should feel hopeless, I think people should be hopeful. I think you can in fact achieve your dream, but you’ve got to put together a strategic plan, which is a little sometimes complicated. But, those who have plans, are those who are going to be successful. I have great hope for young people coming along,” he noted.
Millennials, according to King, are a little bit different. “Millennials are a different group of folks, the way they see the world.” “The thing I’ve heard that is most encouraging is they seem to have more of a social commitment than some previous generations did,” he added.
In regards to leadership, King pointed out, it comes in a lot of different ways. “They’re religious leaders, they’re political leaders, they’re community leaders, they’re civic and social leaders. What I would most importantly encourage is leadership to build coalitions. I think coalitions are needed now more than ever. You can shout off with just an idea and one or two people, but if you really want to have optimum success, you have to have a coalition. A lot of people supporting what the position is you foster. I think people all over the world are concerned about opportunities. Most people are concerned about the environment,” he said.
But most people, even in the United States, King explained are very concerned about the future.
“Most people are concerned about generations yet unborn. We’ve had a different approach that has come to the forefront that we’ve never seen and I’m talking about in the U.S. and not about here. This country has always been somewhat progressive, although your last prime minister would have been considered conservative, but this prime minister is considered more progressive and youthful and a lot of things I think will probably build this nation well. The United States, Canada and even Mexico have to work together. Everyone in this hemisphere has to work in a constructive way of navigating through global affairs. Issues like terrorism. All nations have to work on and figure out how can we address this issue that is dividing communities? That’s why the U.S. has embraced an extreme policy. Yet the irony of it is, the terrorism that has occurred in the U.S. — the few incidents, which none are acceptable — but the few that have occurred have been by people who live in the U.S. — who are citizens,” he said.
“It’s almost like voting. We put voting restrictions for voter fraud that doesn’t exist. It was a complete waste of time. You have to wonder, was that put into place to diminish those who could vote to put up barriers, so some individuals couldn’t vote? Again, that’s the same posture we’re taking about immigration. I hope we will grow and change that position,” he said.
So, what does it take to be a good leader? King said it takes determination, courage, commitment and one has to be, not just inspirational, but able to build coalitions.
“People coming together to work on issues. You’ve got to constantly be in dialogue. You can’t resolve any problem if you’re not communicating. A great leader is not just a great communicator, that’s one of the key things that must exist, but he or she is really able to deal with coalitions, build a base of support,” he said.
One other item King discussed was if a person embraces a philosophy of being defeated, then that person is defeated, but if the person knows it’s just a temporary set back, then they will work another day and work harder to bring change. “In the U.S. for example, I believe the mid-term elections two years from now, there will probably be more people voting than have voted in mid-term elections in many years because of what happened and the leadership. Whatever the president and congress are going to do, I think you’re going to have most things they agree with they will support, but those things people disagree with, they’ve got to fight for. Whether it’s in communities of colour, communities of colour can’t do anything alone either, it must be again a coalition of leadership. When you see these different coalitions coming together, whether it’s women, Latinos and Hispanics, the gay and lesbian community — all of these communities, their voices are going to be heard,” he said. “I see two years from now, in terms of mid-term elections, some changes coming.”
King said change is inevitable, but he does not believe the U.S. will ever go backward. “I do believe there will be stumbling blocks along the way. We’ve been there before, in the 1960s for communities of colour, we’ve experienced this, this is nothing new for us. It’s just a temporary set back,” he said, but that’s the way history and the pendulum swings — one way and it goes so far and then it goes back.