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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is seen here in 1967. The annual MLK celebration in Appleton will take place Monday at Lawrence University’s Memorial Chapel.(Photo: AP)The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. nearly 50 years after his death is one that brought change not for one race, but for an entire nation.
But even though so much time has passed and changes have been made within American society to bring equality for black people in this country, there’s still more that needs doing before true equality between all races is reached.
While there have been high profile firsts to happen for the African American race over the years, the most notable of which being the election of Barack Obama to President of the United States in 2008, there are still indicators in society that the African American community is hindered in areas of life such as law enforcement with frequent instances coming to light nationally of unarmed black men being shot in questionable circumstances during traffic stops.
Greg Hammond is a teacher at South Side who grew up in Jackson. He’s an alumnus of South Side. He’s appreciative of opportunities he has that those who’ve come before him didn’t get to enjoy including running for public office, voicing his opinion without fear of retaliation and other basic rights that are granted in the Constitution.
“I have the same rights as my neighbors,” Hammond said. “My grandparents couldn’t make that statement.
“Many of the rights most Americans consider basic have been provided unimpeded to black Americans for just three generations or less; in a country that has been around for more than 200 years.”
Justin Roberson is a 2013 graduate of Jackson Central Merry High School and graduated from Tennessee State last year. He works in Nashville for Stericycle, a communications company within the legal justice system. He has an appreciation for the opportunities he has in 2018 that he might not have had in past years.
“I feel like I can enjoy (life) more so to our generation now,” Roberson said when asked about how he thinks life is different for him now because of the efforts of King and others in the Civil Rights Movement.
He said there’s more to having the freedom of speech as long as it’s used in the correct manner.
“Everything isn’t violent protesting because there are peaceful protesting,” Roberson said. “Because we protest because we want to express and take action on somebody we don’t agree (with).”
While African Americans are granted equal rights by the Constitution,
Hammond also said true equality hasn’t happened yet.
“The inequality Martin Luther King Jr. and others fought against has morphed over the years,” Hammond said. “It’s no longer overt racism. There is inequity in the criminal justice system and public education; right here in Jackson.
“Anyone who feels the need to challenge that statement has ignored the mountain of evidence that has been provided nationally and locally over the last decade.”
Harrell Carter is the president of the Jackson Madison County chapter of the NAACP. He said inequality effects various aspects of life locally and nationally.
“You look at education, areas where people live within each city and the criminal justice system and you can see differences,” Carter said. “That’s not to say it’s not better than what it was, because it is.
“But there are noticeable differences that it’s not really difficult to see the inherent inequality.”
Carter said he hopes the younger generation coming up like Roberson will be more vocal about trying to stop systematic racism that produces inequality.
“We all can do better than what we’ve done, including myself and the NAACP,” Carter said. “And this younger generation, we’re going to need some of them to step up and get involved and not settle for the status quo that we’ve gotten used to over the years.”
Hammond said he thinks it will take an effort from everyone to stop the trend.
“It starts with ending apathy toward local elections,” Hammond said. “It continues with avoiding the pitfalls we know are in place.
“A child raised in a home with the love and support of two parents has a better chance of making the grade at school and escaping poverty. This is an issue for all Americans, but especially for African Americans since we’re already behind in the quest for generational wealth and the fight to live above the poverty line.”