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Chester County Press

MLK event keynote speaker encourages audience to turn hardship into purpose

01/18/2024 08:06AM ● By Richard Gaw

For the entirety of Rev. Dr. Robin L. Smith’s keynote address at the MLKCommunity’s annual celebration of the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Jan. 15, the Wellness Center at Lincoln University resounded with a call to civic and human action. 

Tapping into her signature four-step prescription of “Wake Up! Show Up! Grow Up! Rise Up!” throughout her presentation, Smith encouraged more than 150 audience members to eliminate what she called the “heart disease” of dormant and closeted racism.

“In the recovery movement, there is a phrase that says that we are only as sick as our secrets, and often racism can be a secret – not just a secret from other people but a secret that may be a secret from yourself,” she said. “We are here to be corrected. That’s what Dr. King’s life, his work and his ministry was about.”

Smith said that eliminating racism and fear from one’s life is often the work of discomfort and the task determining how to create a safe environment. Part of what Dr. King’s mission, she said, was to engage people to recognize their “blind spots,” the truths that we carry that are often difficult to understand.

“You can want to not be angry, but you are angry,” Smith said. “You can want not to hurt other people but you hurt them. You can want not to be sexist but you are. You can do all of those things without knowing that you are doing them.

“Dr. King was assassinated because of blind spots. He was assassinated because of fear. He was assassinated because there were people who were terrified of what it might mean to share.”

A distinguished keynote speaker and ordained minister, licensed psychologist and host of Sirius XM’s “The Dr. Robin Show,” Smith was a frequent guest on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and currently collaborates with major corporations, non-profit organizations and sports and entertainment avenues. She is the author of the New York Times’ bestseller Lies at the Altar: The Truth About Great Marriages.

Smith said that the empowerment of those blind spots has triggered generations of systemic racism built on stereotypes, affecting those who are unaware that they are its most coveted victims. She told the audience about her experience as a mentor to young African-American men in Philadelphia, when she encouraged them to live against the grain of common misconceptions that are being applied to them.

“I told them that they are building really high-tech prisons with individual bathrooms and then I asked them, ‘Guess who they are building them for?’” she said. “I said that they are building them because they have a plan, and they are expecting you to go from this little house to this big, architecturally-sophisticated house, so when you tell me that you are headed to court today with your pants hanging low and your hair not combed with the idea of ‘you doing you’, it is the system who is doing you, and you ae fulfilling what the system is expecting of you.”

Overcoming decades of racism – systemic, overt and veiled, whether as a nation or individually – must rely on the ability to engage the discomfort of accepting those truths, Smith said. 

“You can convert your pain, your adversity and your hardship into purpose and empowerment,” she said. “This is about the redemption of our suffering, and this is what Dr. King understood. You can redeem things that have been so unfair, ways in which you have been marginalized, where you have been victimized and where things were planted purposefully to harm, to kill not just your life, but your dreams, your aspirations and your hopefulness.

“What is miraculous about this process is that things that were meant to break you can become the very steppingstones to your elevation, to your understanding, to your transformation and to your declaration to be all of who you are born to be.”

The event, moderated by MLKCommunity Board President Carol Black, also included readings from Dr. King that were presented by Bob Norris, president of the Kennett Borough Council; Dr. Eugenia Roberts, the principal of the North Brandywine Middle School; Hashon Curry, the student government president at Lincoln University; and Nia Turner, a Lincoln graduate and the 49th Miss Lincoln University. In addition, the Lincoln University Gospel Choir under the direction of Director Daine Baker performed “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” and several other musical selections. 

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].