In reflection of Martin Luther King Jr.’s living message
“Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”
-Martin Luther King Jr.
Monday, Jan. 16, 2017, marked the day we honored Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy as a nation by taking time to reflect on how far we’ve come, and how far we are from equality and social justice.
Regardless of your stance on current global issues, we are all in a similar position. In order to become united, we have to go within and do our own individual work so that we can come to a place of understanding, rather than constantly demonizing and blaming each other.
After attending multiple events in Corvallis, Ore., a flame lit within me: I thought about my own thought process and role during this important period in time, and I realized there are so many other people who are thinking and feeling the exact same way I do.
I started my afternoon by attending Oregon State University’s 35th Annual MLK Celebration.
This year’s keynote speaker featured writer, actor, comedian, and activist Franchesca Ramsey, who spoke on: “Your Powerful Online Voice: Social Media for Social Change.”
“Our voices are very powerful, just connecting with one person and influencing them can really make a difference,” said Ramsey.
Ramsey made her claim to fame with her hit Youtube video: “Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls,” a response to the original Youtube video: “Shit Girls Say,” by Kyle Humphrey and Graydon Sheppard, and the parody “Shit Black Girls Say” by Billy Sorrells.
“I started an unintended global discussion on micro-aggression,” said Ramsey. “This was a really important conversation that needed to happen. I realized there was an opportunity to talk about important issues in a comedic way.”
Ramsey’s online presence was literally an overnight success, gaining 1.5 million views within 24 hours, eventually leading to an invitation to Anderson Cooper’s talk show, writing and contributing to Comedy Central’s “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore,” and hosting the MTV series on social justice issues through comedy “Decoded.”
“There’s a lot of people that are very angry about the things I’ve done,” said Ramsey. “I think this is very important to talk about because it solidifies the work that I’m doing.”
Some of the online hate messages Ramsey has received include using King’s name and legacy as a way to silence her voice, even referring to her as “being racist.” This narrative is all too common for African-Americans who take an approach that many feel is not in line with King’s peaceful vision and rhetoric.
“I think too often people get caught up in being the most ‘woke,’” said Ramsey. “Is America ‘We need to be great,’ or ‘Speak out on things that don’t make us great?’”
Although she believes anger is always a valid emotion, Ramsey also believes you should pick your battles, and encourages people to think about what their ultimate goals are by asking ourselves: “Does this serve my goal of supporting racial justice by yelling at this person or digging up things?” She also stresses the importance of being self-reflective and taking accountability.
“Your intent does not absolve your impact,” said Ramsey.
“Every man lives in two realms: the internal and the external. The internal is that realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, morals, and religion. The external is that complex of devices, techniques, mechanisms, and instrumentalities by means of which we live.”
–Martin Luther King Jr.
I concluded the day by attending a discussion led by Dr. Leticia Nieto that focused on the work from her latest book, “Beyond Inclusion, Beyond Empowerment: A Developmental Strategy to Liberate Everyone.”
The event was hosted at Corvallis High School and sponsored by the Corvallis, Ore., King Legacy Advisory Board as part of their annual celebration.
Nieto is a psychotherapist and therapist who specializes in cross-cultural communication, creativity, and motivation.
“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in,” said Nieto, setting the tone of the evening as she began her presentation with a call and response, singing the lyrics from “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen.
“We are up against it, dark, how do we get passed it,” said Nieto. “Great things always begin from inside, and we have a habit of being impatient about growth.”
Some things Nieto touched based on was: being in the flow of change, and getting in the habit of looking up at what’s greater than ourselves.
“You might be angelic, you might be fiery, you might be both, but both equal power,” said Nieto.
So, as we reach a point of confusion, and stand on the brink of self-destruction, we question if King was asking us to be passive, or peaceful, and think of how we can achieve freedom from this social context.
According to Nieto’s “Agent Skills Model,” at a deeper level there is a systemic socialized layer, where all the “isms” we absorb live. This is where we learn the conditioned behaviors, and become trapped in “the matrix.”
Empowerment is when the fog lifts. These skills can be vengeful, angry, and most oppressive, but: empowerment is necessary to get to the strategy skills.
“I can only think in spirals,” said Nieto. “If you’re trying to shift, sometimes it looks like you’re going backwards, but you’re not, it’s a spiral.”
Strategy is when we begin slowing everything and making choices, when our presence is louder than verbal immediacy.
“It’s not about being right or wrong, it’s about the relationships,” said Nieto. “Power is about the ability to step into the other, whoever disagrees with you.”
Story and photos by Alyssa Campbell