Keynote speaker: 'We are living in the midst of a justice and human rights nightmare'
● By Richard Gaw
Merging together the lyricism and poignancy of our nation's Declaration of Independence with one of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s most well-known speeches, Dr. Marjorie Adams delivered an impassioned keynote address in Kennett Square on Jan. 19, a day that celebrated the life of Dr. King and launched a day of community volunteerism.
"We are living in the midst of a justice and civil rights nightmare," Adams, a professor at Morgan State University, told an audience of more than 400 gathered at the Red Clay Room in Kennett Square, as part of the 14th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. CommUNITY of Greater Kennett Area breakfast. "We have a crisis of mass incarceration. Our governments have spent billions of dollars to incarcerate African-American males who were left in the hands of public defenders who urged them to take plea deals."
The two-hour event – which also featured a performance by the CommUNITY Choir and readings of selected speeches by Dr. King – kicked off a full day of initiatives held in the area.
The Day of Sharing gave hundreds of volunteers the opportunity to honor Dr. King by dedicating the day toward service projects that benefited local non-profit agencies and their clients. A community food drive was organized by community volunteers, and included a drop off of food items to the Kennett Food Cupboard during the evening.
During her 20-minute address, Adams railed against current laws that create mandatory jail sentences for non-violent offenders, and zero tolerance policies that create a pathway from school to jail. The truth is in the statistics, she said; one in three African American males will spend time in the legal justice system, and in inner cities, 80 percent of African American males will have a criminal record.
"The newly released ex convict has a permanent orange jumpsuit – a Scarlet Letter on his forehead – that allows the system to openly discriminate against former inmates, banishing them to a life of poverty and social exclusion, without access to continued education, that prevents them for acquiring skills to earn them a better living," Adams said. "These former inmates have become socially, economically and politically disenfranchised, they have become by law outcasts of society."
Quoting the Declaration of Independence, Adams said that although the document states that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, "The document continues to say that when any government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government laying foundation on principles in such form as to seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness," she said.
In order to best unlock the barriers that hold back African American males from employment, housing, educational and voting opportunities, Adams called for the activation of several initiatives that dismantle the channels that she said conspire to keep people of color from equal justice and the creation of opportunities.
She recommended the formation of legal teams to explore ways of re-writing laws that keep minority males from being able to re-enter society after their sentencing; the repeal of zero tolerance laws, as well as laws that take drivers licenses away from men who are behind in their child support; the encouragement of law professionals to teach children about their constitutional rights, and how to best respond to taunting and criticism from law enforcement officials; an increase in voter registration; and the need for more young people to enter into the field of constitutional law.
"We must repair students as early as elementary school to be politically aware and active," Adams said. "Every school should have students engaged in the political process aligned with the elections going on their cities, states and the nation. Our young people are our best hope for a better and just America. We know they are smart. We know our young people have skills, and want to do well. We know they deserve a safer and just environment."
Adams said that if the United Stats is fighting for human rights on foreign soil, it must also do the same on its own soil.
"Together, we can destroy the nightmare and have a realized, manifested dream of liberty and justice for all," Adams concluded. "So let justice run down as water and righteousness as a mighty stream. Then we say, to God be the glory, for the right things he has done. For God be the glory for the rights of every human being...We can all join together and we can all fight for the justice that every person in this country deserves to have, by virtue of being birthed here or being a naturalized citizen. Our youngest can fight, our oldest can fight.
"All of us can work toward together because justice is for everybody, not just some. Freedom is for everybody, not just some."
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.