OAKLAND -- Youthful passion, profound music and the messages of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were the heart and soul of the Barbara Lee & Elihu Harris Lecture Series presentation Saturday at Allen Temple Baptist Church.
Freedom fighter activist and singer Bettie Mae Fikes, the Allen Temple Unity Choir and keynote speaker Martin Luther King III, the oldest son of the late civil rights leader and Coretta Scott King, delivered a one-note missive: the work of Dr. King remains unfinished.
Following songs and salutations -- and an introduction by Lee, D-Oakland, that rolled out like a post-Dr. King civil rights history -- King said, "Some thought, when (President Barack) Obama was elected, we'd reached a post-racial society. After six years, we see how divided we are. We're nowhere near where we need to be."
King, after graduating with a B.A. in political science from his father's alma mater, Morehouse College, went on to become the at-large representative of Fulton County, Ga. He founded the King Summer Intern Program, an employment program for high school students, and Hoops for Health, a charity basketball game benefiting newborns suffering from substance abuse during pregnancy. In 2010, the nonprofit organization he founded, Realizing the Dream Inc., merged with the King Center and he spread his father's message internationally. Peppered throughout his career, his political stance in opposition to gun violence, police brutality and social injustice -- along with commemorative activities honoring his father's assassination -- have buttressed his position as heir to his parents' legacy.
"My dad and mom dedicated their lives to the eradication of three things: poverty, racism, militarism and violence in our society," he said.
Warning of flying forces -- from drones that kill innocent civilians to financial institutions that lent money to "people they knew would never be able to pay back mortgages that flew from $1,000 to $3,000 in five years' time," King said, "We gotta stop saying we're victims and blaming."
Instead, he suggested, "Go across the street and vote." Calling Oakland "a progressive city," he praised Lee for "fighting, not just for people of color, but for people wherever they are mistreated."
King's energetic, more-"church"-than-chastisement delivery, circled around poverty's peril. "It continues to grow," he warned. Highlighting part of the cause -- a criminal system he said incarcerated a disproportionate number of African-American men -- he interjected bittersweet humor, paraphrasing comedian Richard Pryor and saying that prisons reflected the only "all you'll find is 'just-us'" in the system.
His father's dream, he said, was well remembered. But left behind were the harder challenges the dream evoked: how can "out-violencing" another country lead to peace? Why won't the U.S. Congress pass gun reform laws? Why does money flow in, then out, of the African-American community instead of circulating?
"We must do better," King said. Throughout his 30-minute oration, he echoed his father's remembered lessons. From "it doesn't take masses," to "we have to rise up," to "if it falls upon you to be a street sweeper, go and sweep the streets like Mozart," King said his father had taught him a choice was necessary. "You can be like a thermometer," he said, calling it "a good device that records temperature," or you can be a thermostat, an empowered tool for regulating and controlling conditions.
If his overall message was that there remains civil rights and social justice work to be done, King suggested his hope arose from today's youth. Thanking and praising Merritt College and the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center, the series' co-producers along with Kaiser Permanente and other contributing sponsors, King said "A nation is judged by how it treats our most precious resource. Our most precious resource is certainly our children."
Jabari LaChaux, an administrative associate at Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center, represented the younger generation of future civil rights leaders with a rousing, fiery "call to peaceful arms." Like the choir and Fikes, who told stories of being raised by her great-grandmother and demonstrated how she became known as "the voice of Selma" with her arresting musical performance, LaChaux appeared to have internalized Dr. King's half-century old messages.
Recalling the triplet of unjust forces, "racism, materialism, militarism; assaulting people in this country," he shared King's "We can do better" challenge.