Speaker tells MLK gathering: 'Our difference is a blessing, not a curse'
● By Richard Gaw
Reflecting on the message of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King., Jr. and juxtaposing it against the contemporary backdrop of a racism that continues to smolder in the United States nearly 50 years after Dr. King's death, Bishop Dwayne D. Royster delivered a searing, inspirational and informative message to an audience of more than 250 who attended the 17th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. CommUNITY of the Greater Kennett Area breakfast, held at the Red Clay Room in Kennett Square on Jan. 15.
Introduced as “a man of the faith and a man of action,” Royster said that the long-imagined dream of racial and economic equality in the United States is headed on a backward course. Using the speech King gave at the Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967 as a backdrop to his address, Royster said in reading the text of the speech, King made frequent reference to “the soul of America,” proclaiming that racism, extreme materialism and militarism were preventing some Americans from achieving equality, all of which, Royster said, did not go away after the election of Barack Obama in 2008, but merely “went underground” during Obama's two terms in office.
Referring to the increased incidents of racially-motivated violence in the United States in 2017, including that which happened in Charlottesville, Va., Royster said that “we've gotten to an age where folks don't feel the need to wear the white sheets over their heads, but are able to stand up with views that are racist and derogatory and absolutely damaging to people that don't look like them.
“We are in a moment in our country where we are finally able to have a conversation about the fact of how racism is actually ripping out the soul of our nation, and if we are not willing to have honest, courageous conversation about how white supremacy and white nationalism is killing us, we will never be the country that we were destined to be,” he said. “I don't believe in any supremacy. I believe in humanity, that all of us come together, and instead of seeing our diversity as somehow deficiency, I want to see our diversity as the capability for us to celebrate our differences, and to thank God that we are not the same. If we were all the same, this world would be boring. Our diversity is a cornucopia, not a cacophony.
“Our difference is a blessing, not a curse.”
Royster said the U.S. suffers from a continued commitment to what he called “extreme materialism,” a social “Darwinism” which he said is often achieved on the backs of under-served communities. He gave the [recently-passed] tax bill as an example, telling the audience that while it attempts to bring down the national deficit, it harms allocations for Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, education, and variety of social services that help needy families.
“We have gotten to a place today where our bottom line is more important than the people who are creating the bottom line,” he said. “We have put profits over people, and ultimately are working to destroy the bedrock of our community, which is the American family. You can't tell me that your agenda is about seeing families thrive when you are attacking the very thing, so that businesses can get tax breaks,” he said.
The finger of blame for this inequality, Royster said, points to Fear.
“We are in a moment in our country when we have to take a look at extreme materialism and the way we are hoarding resources, and understand that at the underlying root of it is a fear of the other,” he said. “It is a fear of of black folk and brown folk, indigenous folk, the fear that these folks...that somehow or another, 'are going to get what we have, and get everything we can get right now, and get it from them.'
“But I'm here today to say to you that if we stand up together, we can change that system, and make it such that every person in Pennsylvania and in our country can thrive, not just merely survive.”
That fear, Royster said, extends to current efforts by the Trump administration to beef up national security by selling the idea of increased militarism, seen most visibly in the administration's plans to build a wall at the country's southern-most borders, at a cost of $33 billion. It's a travesty, he told the audience.
“We spend all of this energy and all this time worrying about undocumented citizens coming to hurt us and take from us, and we know that at the root of that, [is the fact that] this country will become a majority country of color by 2050, as opposed to being a white nation, and people are afraid, so we're doing everything we can to throw black people in jail, or throw brown folk and Asian Pacific folk out of the country, so that people can maintain their power.”
Again referring to Dr. King's 1967 address, Royster suggested that the nation's conversation and subsequently, its actions, needs to create a better recognition for the value of life, a more inclusive democracy, and the establishment of inclusive policies.
“We wrestle with these things, but we wrestle in silence,” he said. “Didn't Dr. King say that there comes a point when silence is betrayal? We betray not only those whom we think less of, but we betray ourselves, because we will never be able to experience the full benefit of knowing them in their wholeness. We have to have a recognition of the humanity of all.”
Royster, the host of “Urban Insights” on WURD Radio and Designated Pastor of Faith United Church of Christ in Washington, D.C., is a nationally recognized faith leader, preacher, political activist and community organizer. He is past Executive Director of POWER – Philadelphians Organized to Witness and Empower – an organization of more than 50 congregations intent on building an inclusive city of opportunity.
At the beginning of his address, Royster asked the audience to imagine a playground where children from all nationalities are playing, 'their bellies are full,' and their parents are of equal diversity.
“They laugh. They rejoice. They feel safe. They are safe. They experience being whole,” Royster said. “That is the dream, the dream that we are all striving for, but that is not the reality of this moment. That is not the reality that we're living in, and we've got some work to get to that place.
“I believe that we can get to this vision and dream, but we've got some work ahead of us. We have to put our hands to the plow and not turn back until liberation and freedom comes for everybody who desires to become a part of this dream called 'America.'”
The annual event also included performances of “We Have a Dream,” written by Dennis and Donna Melton; and “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “We Shall Overcome,” by the CommUNITY Choir, under the direction of Leon Spencer; and readings from King's “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” by Rev. Dr. Anita Powell and her husband, Marvin Powell, Esq.
In addition, 12 students from Avon Grove, Kennett and Unionville high schools were named as the recipients of the 2017 MLK Scholarship Awards.
The MLK CommUNITY of the Greater Kennett Area Breakfast was founded in 2001 by Mabel Latta Thompson, an educator, historian and local civic leader, in order that Chester County residents work collaboratively for “peace and harmony.” To learn more about the organization, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.mlkcommunity.org.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email email@example.com.