S07 E02: Attacks on the Dream: Dr. King’s Legacy Today
Kanya Bennett: Welcome to Pod For The Cause, the official podcast of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and The Leadership Conference Education Fund, where we take on the critical civil and human rights issues of our day as we work to save our democracy. I’m your host, Kanya Bennett, coming to you from our nation’s capital, Washington, DC. Happy New Year, everyone. We have a new episode in this new year. And today on Pod For The Cause, we are elevating the ideals of freedom and equality from the most profound dreamer of all Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. To do so, we are joined by three critical thinkers and dreamers who will help us define the state of Dr. King’s dream at this moment. We have ReNika Moore, director of the Racial Justice Program at the American Civil Liberties Union. Welcome, ReNika.
ReNika Moore: Thank you.
Kanya Bennett: We also have Dr. Terah Venzant Chambers, professor of K- 12 educational administration and the Associate Dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the graduate school at Michigan State University. Hi, Terah, my long-lost former Congressional Black Caucus Foundation fellow.
Dr. Terah Venzant Chambers: So nice to be here. Thanks so much, Kanya.
Kanya Bennett: And Justin. Justin Hansford is joining us today. He’s the professor of law and director of the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center at the Howard University School of Law. Justin, thank you for being here today.
Justin Hansford: All right, glad to be here.
Kanya Bennett: As we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this month, we are provided with an opportunity to discuss the state of Dr. King’s dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. As Dr. King said, “A dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self- evident that all men and women, all people, are created equal. A dream to not be judged by the color of our skin, but the content of our character.” Over the years, however, Dr. King’s dream has been weaponized to push for a colorblind society, and this year will be no exception. In fact, given the recent dismantling of affirmative action in higher education by the US Supreme Court and the constant legal and legislative attacks on diversity, equity, and inclusion policies, the opportunity and equity envisioned by Dr. King is now compromised. Today, we will discuss the attacks on equity, fairness, and civility that impact our communities in all areas of education, as well as the economy and employment for marginalized communities, our communities of color. So let me start with you, ReNika. Let’s talk about the state of the dream. This month marks the first King holiday observance after the US Supreme Court’s decision in the affirmative action cases, Students for Fair Admissions versus Harvard and UNC. Please unpack these cases for us, these case outcomes for us. Tell us what these decisions are, what they mean for the country, and what they mean for continuing Dr. King’s legacy of justice and equality.
ReNika Moore: Sure. So the cases involve the admissions policies of both Harvard University, a private university that receives federal funds, and the University of North Carolina, which is a state university, a public university. What the court essentially said is that the affirmative action programs that those two schools were running violated the equal protection clause of the United States, right? And they go into detail and explain that the policies consider race. And even though both schools were very clear, there were trials held in the lower courts explaining how exactly race is considered, that it was considered in a holistic manner. And in many ways, we and other civil rights organizations argued that each of these schools were using race and considering race in a way that was completely consistent with what the court has previously held constitutional. And that includes very recently in Grutter v. Michigan. And so we were extremely concerned about the court taking up this case. So what the majority of the court said is that the consideration of race by both Harvard and the University of North Carolina was unconstitutional and that these schools could not consider race because it disadvantaged white and Asian students. It also referenced the timetable that was alluded to in Grutter looking at the next 25 years and said that there has to be a sunset period contemplated for the consideration of race, the fact that neither school identified a point at which they would no longer use or need these policies. The majority also talks about the fact that race can’t be used to presume adversity or other attributes simply because a student checks a box. And so what they said is that, and I want to be very clear here because I think the opponents of affirmative action have really tried to misconstrue the decision here, but the court does say that schools can still consider race, but they must do so in an individualized way. And so they need to not merely because a student, for example, is Black, should they assume that that student has encountered racial discrimination or adversity. But if a student specifically talks about their experience of themselves or their family overcoming racial discrimination, a school can consider that. Students can talk about the ways in which their race or ethnicity and their heritage has helped to inspire them to adopt positions of leadership or otherwise take on challenges that could add value to the campus, to the school, and to the benefit of their classmates. What we’ve seen in the wake of the decision is attempts by Ed Blum, who was the architect of this challenge and a number of other challenges that are intended to really minimize the opportunities and to really block efforts to deconstruct discrimination, segregation, and systemic inequality that we see, we’ve seen continued efforts to mischaracterize the decision. For example, Ed Blum sent out letters telling schools that they could no longer collect race data, that they couldn’t know the race of applicants at all, otherwise attempting to make any discussion of race taboo and prohibited. And that’s simply not what the court said. And in fact, schools doing so could run afoul of laws like Title VI and the Constitution. And we’ve seen schools really wrestle with and try to understand and make sense of the court’s decision. And most recently, I heard that the dean of Amherst was on a podcast for The New York Times really wrestling with how to consider an applicant’s involvement in the Black Student Union. And it was really concerning because really seemed to not think that they could consider a student’s participation in the Black Students Union. And so when in fact, obviously a student’s participation in the Black Student Union should be considered like any other extracurricular activity. And in terms of the specific role of race in that student’s participation and in their experience of college or in life in general can absolutely be considered, and that is completely consistent with the decision and the Students for Fair Admission. There is a full- on battle. We see the Students for Fair Admission have filed lawsuits against two military academies, West Point and the Naval Academy. We filed amicus briefs in those cases. They initially filed a preliminary injunction seeking to stop the immediate use of affirmative action in this admission cycle. And so far both courts have denied those preliminary injunctions. In fact, one in November, one a couple of weeks ago, shutting down the Student for Fair Admission’s attempt to do so. These are still actively being debated and litigated in the courts, and we see the courts even, particularly in the Naval Academy case, we see the courts saying very clearly that the Supreme Court did not ban the use of affirmative action, but that it found that in the specific instance of these two schools that their specific policies were not. So I think we still are understanding what this decision means and we should not by any means, assume that all consideration of race is off the table.
Kanya Bennett: Thank you so much, ReNika, for unpacking those decisions and being clear, and I think this needs to be said again, that these decisions do not prevent universities from considering race in admissions policies. I want to turn to you, Terah. Talk about what a world without affirmative action looks like. Your home state, your now adopted home state of Michigan actually passed in 2006, so 18 years ago, a constitutional amendment that prohibits universities, public universities from considering race in admissions decisions. So want to know what setbacks to the dream resulted with such a constitutional ban and what has higher ed looked like in Michigan without affirmative action?
Dr. Terah Venzant Chambers: As you noted, we have been operating under similar, actually more restrictive set of guidelines relating to race and gender conscious approaches in admissions hiring, other areas since Proposal 2 has passed here in 2006. If people remember Proposal 2, California has Prop 209, that was passed even earlier. So we have some experience with this. I won’t say that I wasn’t deeply disappointed with the Supreme Court ruling. But like many who have been paying attention to the court, we saw this coming. But that said, it doesn’t diminish that the Supreme Court ruling is awful and it set us back in countless ways. That said, we can’t let ourselves become so fixated on the things that we can’t do, that we lose sight of the things that we still can, and dare I say, things that are just as important or more important than affirmative action in higher education. And I guess I would say, so what are those things? And so for me, as someone who cares particularly about K- 12 education, one of those things would be the racial disparities that occur even earlier in the education pipeline before college is even remotely on a child’s radar. In fact, there are so many kids who would never even benefit from these affirmative action policies because we failed them so hard and so early they never even have a chance. So we fund schools so inequitably in this country, there is an unconscionable disparity between our highest funded and lowest funded schools. And certainly some of those funding disparities exist between states, but the disparities between districts that are walkable from one another can be mind- boggling. And then you think about what that means for teacher salaries, school facilities, equipment, technology, music and the arts, sports, you name it. And those disparities are really shameful when it’s an issue that people really just don’t want to talk about. And that’s just one thing, and we could and we probably should be talking about a lot of other things. So I’m not saying that if we fix school funding, we’ll fix the world. But I am saying this is one example and a setback with the Supreme Court ruling doesn’t give us the cause to just take our ball and go home. We’ve got other really important issues that we can still focus on. And so my argument would be we still have a lot of work that we got to do.
Kanya Bennett: Thank you, Terah. That is fair. And I think that’s right to not fixate on a bad decision outcome. We need to figure out a way to move forward. We need to figure out what the possibilities are, what can we actually do to address the inequities that we find students of color, as you are articulating, Terah, experience, all people of color are experiencing in different segments of our society. And while I do think we need to figure out a way forward with respect to policies that are going to promote fairness and justice, I also think we need to focus on the narrative here. Like ReNika said, we need to actually tell people what this decision does and does not do. And we need to make sure that folks do not continue to mischaracterize Dr. King’s dream and use that to push out policies that are truly counter to what it is he envisioned for this country, for this world. And so Justin, I want to invite you into this conversation, again, not to, as Terah was saying, not to have us fixate on where the court is and the harms, we know that they will continue to create harms, but to call the court out a bit on how they are misconstruing and misusing Dr. King’s dream. You have talked about the justices, some of the justices, and have been critical, Justin, about the court intentionally issuing decisions invoking Dr. King’s name to really perpetuate centuries of bondage and oppression. So talk to us a little bit about what you mean by that and how the court is doing wrong by Dr. King.
Justin Hansford: I’m always happy to call out the court when it’s involved in injustice. Here, we have a situation where these narratives that have been in existence for hundreds of years around the 14th Amendment being a tool not to remedy the ongoing legacies of enslavement, but instead a tool of creating a colorblind society where there is no understanding of historical context or understanding of the reality of situations that we face in education or the reality of centuries of institutional racism that need to be remedied through programs like affirmative action. That narrative is one that was used over the course of decades. You can really go back to the University of California v. Bakke case in 1978 where the Supreme Court refused to allow the continuation of a version of affirmative action that was designed to be much more aggressive with quota is becoming a scary word. We know there are countries in other places in the world like Brazil that are using quotas very effectively, but quotas were seen to be beyond the pale in 1978. And there was also this argument that we could not provide some societal remedy based program for creating more inclusive institutions. It had to be based on the grounds of diversity. That really, to me, was the first real major attack on this affirmative action program. From my perspective, it was always a negotiation because what we really needed was reparations, and what we needed was a reckoning with these institutions and with American society where they acknowledge the harm that these institutions have created and continue to create, not just in our education, but also in all aspects of our lives in healthcare, in economic realm. And this reckoning should be grounds, in my view for… If this reckoning was actually done, it would be grounds for creating a specific remedy that’s narrowly tailored to respond to those harms. And I use that language because, of course, that’s the language of the 14th Amendment, which tries to limit the amount of remedy or remedial work that these types of programs can do by creating a strict scrutiny framework. Again, it was challenged very aggressively going back to 1978. Now, there are many ways that we can look at where we have ended up now in 2024. We know that there is this attempt to even as far as you can try to restrict the use of these programs of inclusion when they’re argued for on the grounds of diversity. But my perspective is that these institutions need to reckon with the harms that they’ve created over the course of generations and provide programs of inclusion based on reparations, not based on diversity. That we’ve seen some initial gestures in that direction from Harvard University and Georgetown University. Both have set aside millions of dollars on the grounds that they do acknowledge their own institutional complicity in the harm of enslavement. We have had acknowledgements and confirmations from the White House that HBCUs around the country have been underfunded for decades in a systematic way. And there needs to be a process of providing remedy for that. Our institution, Howard University, Thurgood Marshall Center and the Civil Rights Clinic that preceded our Movement Lawyering Clinic, was involved in helping to litigate a case in the State of Maryland on behalf of Coppin State and Morgan State and some other HBCUs that were chronically underfunded by the State of Maryland. There was a remedy that was provided there for HBCUs. And I always talk about HBCUs, that’s just because I’m a product of one and because I work at one, but we know that over 50% of Black doctors in the country come from HBCUs, over 70% of Black lawyers in the country have attended HBCUs at some point in time. But that connection of understanding that this is not simply a project that needs to be done for the sake of diversity grounds or on the grounds of diversity, but really as a reckoning on the grounds of reparations, that’s the transition that we need right now. That new lens is a lens that would be more in line with Dr. King’s vision. There’s a I won’t want to say a meme, but there’s a video that’s been going around for quite some time where Dr. King talked about the need for repair and reparations. And even if you look to the I Have a Dream speech, it talked in the beginning about the need to go back to the Bank of Justice to cash our check for justice essentially. This promissory note had come back marked insufficient funds, but we were not going to accept that. We understood that in many ways, that was a reparations narrative in the I Have a Dream speech, which is conveniently pushed to the side. When we talk about Dr. King’s legacy and specifically that speech, we don’t talk about that reparationist vision very often. We talk about these more acceptable in our broad societal narrative discussions around colorblindness and our merit being based on the content of our character, not the color of our skin. I’m not saying Dr. King didn’t say that, of course, but we know what he was really intending to be the overall theme of that I Have a Dream speech. It was more so about giving us justice, not about moving towards the societal colorblindness, which was already something that the Supreme Court had affirmed that it wanted to do in Plessy, but which had been a catastrophe for our society because Plessy and the colorblind approach to looking at segregationist institutions, separate but equal institutions, caused catastrophe. So there’s certainly a space there, in my view, for us to transition to a lens that is more robust in providing the justice we need in society, affirmative action, if there’s any remedial programming done by these institutions, do the programming on the grounds of racial reckoning and on the grounds of reparation, not on the grounds of the diversity rationale alone, which was always, in my lens, an interest convergence rationale. Derrick Bell talked about the reality that most of our racial reform policies took place throughout our history because they didn’t just benefit us, but they also benefited the white power structure. And the diversity rationale itself is a rationale that is basically saying, ” Well, this will actually benefit the white power structure. This will benefit our military. This will benefit our corporations. This will benefit the white students if we have this diversity. And so for that reason, we should provide some sort of inclusion as opposed to providing inclusion because it’s the right thing to do or because it’s a reckoning for past harm.” So it was always an interest convergence based rationale that was always tenuous for that reason. So there’s hope if we are going to transition to a more robust rationale based on racial reckoning, but of course, that remains to be seen if that will take place.
Kanya Bennett: Well, Justin, I appreciate you moving us toward a more solutions oriented affirmative approach to this conversation. We have been, and I think we still continue, many of us at our organizations, our institutions of higher ed, are still thinking in very reactive ways to a lot of not just the affirmative action decision, but a lot of the constant attack that we are experiencing on the day- to- day with these various attacks on equity, inclusion, diversity. And so ReNika, let me circle back to you about some of the affirmative litigation, some of the affirmative policy we need to be thinking about to actually, again, realize Dr. King’s dream here in terms of everyone having a seat at the table, being wholly educated, wholly employed. ReNika, talk to us about that.
ReNika Moore: Yeah, it’s interesting, I lead the racial justice program at the ACLU and much of our litigation isn’t… We obviously have been very busy in the past year addressing these challenges to race conscious programs, but a lot of our litigation is actually focusing on these systemic harms and just much of the architecture of our systemic equality doesn’t even have to explicitly use race. And so we often are challenging the ways in which we see these systems at play. And so in the educational system, one example I’ll give, recent litigation that we had was in South Carolina, originally called Kenny v. Wilson. You may remember this was now several years ago, but there was a very disturbing tape of a young woman who was yanked from her seat in a school in South Carolina, and it was recorded on a phone. And part of that problem that we challenged was the use of disorderly conduct laws, of disturbing schools laws in South Carolina to address routine adolescent behavior. The presence of police in schools and often being used and relied on to fill the needs of students that had nothing to do with criminality, that had nothing to do with rule breaking. Our litigation was challenging the ways in which those laws were used by police to enforce and discipline students that was leading to Feeding the School to Prison Pipeline. And so we filed a lawsuit on behalf of Black and students with disabilities, and we ultimately won. And one of the great parts, and it was the school system, the state appealed that decision, but it was held up in the Fourth Circuit. And one of the things that the Fourth Circuit said in holding up the decision is that these disciplinary records that were ultimately turned into juvenile criminal proceedings got in the way of students’ ability to pursue education, including higher education. And so we see the disparate discipline, we see the disparate opportunities, the fact that students aren’t being able to learn. So a lot of our work in thinking about education that Terah was talking about is about keeping students in classrooms, ensuring the quality of what they’re learning in those classrooms. But so many Black students, Indigenous students in many parts of the country, Latina students and Asian American students are taken out of schools on the pretext of discipline because of the overpresence of police and the underpresence of counselors, of administrators, of other services that students need. It’s really important, and we think it’s critically important for us to be talking about the continued existence of racial disparities in racial discrimination. I think to Justin’s point, our filings in the military case in the challenges to the Military Academy’s use of affirmative action was about the history, but the ongoing racism in the military and the ongoing discrimination. This isn’t just about slavery, this is also about the current discrimination that Black people faced whether in the military or other parts of society, and that, in fact, other people of color face as well. And I just want to note while we’re talking about the misuse and the co- optation of Martin Luther King’s colorblind theory, there’s a really great article by a professor at Berkeley about Dr. King’s support of affirmative action and talks about his interest in don’t buy where you can’t work and supporting protests to hire based on the percentage of Blacks in the labor force, so what we think of as quotas. And he began Operation Breadbasket in Atlanta after going to India to understand their system like Brazil to address through hiring and education and legislature of untouchables, what had previously been discriminated against by the Indian government, including embedded in its constitution. So there were allocations for jobs. There were a set of laws and legal tools that were intended to protect them from discrimination and exploitation. And then there were services, including loans, scholarships in India to address what the government and the society had done. And we see Martin Luther King speaking very positively of these, supporting these. And so recognizing and rejecting the mischaracterization of what Martin Luther King stood for, and he really rooted those in terms of how those should be applied in American society. He rooted those in exactly what Justin’s talking about, right, in terms of a reparations framework and recognizing the failure to pay for the use of enslaved labor, the ongoing exploitation of the Black ghetto. So I think we need to understand the history and the legacy and not allow Dr. King or others’ words or positions on policies to be misused and mischaracterized as we continue to push for removal of these barriers in the advancement of opportunity for students of color. The ACLU, along with a number of other national civil rights organization, did put together guidance for higher education stakeholders in the wake of SFFA. And I’m happy to make that available to our viewers, but just talking about some of the recommendations and things that schools can do and stakeholders can do in thinking about how we value students and the contributions they bring and how we think about listening to the ways in which students overcome adversity, thinking about minimizing the use of standardized tests, which we know have disparate outcomes for students of color and don’t accurately indicate success in the future of those as well.
Kanya Bennett: Terah, that brings me back to you and something you have said is we must work for small wins. Even as we are engaged in long- term culture shifts, we must search for systemic responses, but be attentive to individual actions. So talk to us about a solutions oriented approach here to your work and what we can do again to ensure that Dr. King’s legacy is realized.
Dr. Terah Venzant Chambers: I’m not sure that I have a magic answer to what are the solutions, certainly no capital S solution to this. My answer to this, 20 years ago, shoot, it’s more than that, I was working on the Hill, Kanya knows, and I remember being disappointed that researchers and policymakers weren’t working together better, sometimes were actively distrustful of each other, and that was particularly disappointing because this was around the time of the implementation of No Child Left Behind. So I was particularly disappointed because educators and community members also were being left out of so many important conversations that were happening at the time. And so the lesson that I’ve carried with me from that experience is the importance for me of maintaining these connections. And it has meant that even as I’ve been climbing the ranks of the professor in higher education, I’ve tried to maintain my connection to policy and research in the community, and it explains why I’ve got yard signs in my garage right now. And I’m in an elected position on my local school board because I’ve never wanted to be that kind of researcher who wrote about things, but never really impacted them. And that’s the lane that I’m in. That’s the change that I could make. Am I perfect? No, and I have my share of detractors. I don’t know any elected official who doesn’t, but it’s the way that I can use my abilities and passion to try and make my little corner of the world better. And I’m not saying that everybody has to go out and get elected to their school board, but we all need to do what we can. And in the six years that I’ve been on my school board, we’ve done some incredible things as a team. I’m getting to your question, but working together with the board, with the superintendent and her administrative team and the teachers and the staff and the students in the broader community, I know how hard it is to foster change even under the right conditions, which I think we have in East Lansing. So when people will say, ” Well, you all should just do this, or why don’t you just focus on that,” I have an understanding of what it takes to get there. Just a taste. I’m not even in the classroom doing the real work that the teachers are doing. So I understand why people end up making superficial changes to give people the pretty picture that they want, but it’s not always the deep structural change that they need. And it’s hard to talk about those complex needs in a neat soundbite all the time, but that’s what we need. Every day the educators in my district are showing up for our kids. I have the privilege and the responsibility actually to highlight their efforts, when to try and help them be able to continue doing what they’re doing, and the climate that they’re doing it in is more difficult than I think it’s ever been. And so I understand why people are terrified to step into that, but that’s exactly why we need to. That’s how we make sure that the change that we need to make is real and that it sticks and that we find these solutions that are really going to be impactful. We get into those rooms where the change happens, and we work hard to make sure that it happens, and that these classroom spaces are safe for our kids and that it will be welcoming for our kids. We know because we’re there and we make sure that it happens. I don’t know any other kind of solution other than that kind of solution is that we get in there and we do the hard work.
Kanya Bennett: Such an important point you made about making sure that there is communication, that there is relationship among our policymakers, our academics. I’m going to suggest the private sector. So Justin, want to invite you in here to talk about all the folks, all the stakeholders who should be working together in solution. And also obviously, Justin, given your perch there on the UN, Permanent Forum on People of African Descent, I mean, there’s a role for the international community to play here as well when we think about accountability to the dream here in the United States. Let me ask you to talk about just all the stakeholders who are needed as we work, again, towards this vision here, this dream here.
Justin Hansford: The entire society has to work together. The interesting thing about this moment is that we are seeing an attack on education on multiple fronts, of course, with the so- called critical race theory bans. The institutions themselves, if the students were able to get in, especially if you’re thinking about public institutions in the South, there’s a move to try to make those institutions more” colorblind” into whitewash curriculums. That’s happening at the same time we have SFAA where there’s an effort to exclude people from the institutions altogether. So there’s multiple fronts at the moment that could both be looked at from the lens of a response to what people call the racial reckoning of 2020 after the killing of George Floyd. Of course, there’s an electoral aspect of it. The anti- CRT movement was conceptualized in many ways as an electoral movement, an idea by an activist named Christopher Rufo to energize the right- wing base, similar to Benghazi or something like that. But all these things were happening on a societal level by political actors, well- funded by financial actors. And so the response also has to happen on that type of holistic level that has to be supported economically. We’ve seen some efforts by people in places like Tulsa, Oklahoma where they have independent educational programs on the weekends for youth where they can learn about Black history even in spite of the bans that are happening in public schools. So you see families, teachers, members of the community taking it upon themselves to do that educational work. Even this project that you discussed, the United Nations Permanent Forum for People of African Descent, that program was created in aftermath of the killing of George Floyd. It’s a platform created at the United Nations. We have 10 members, five of us were elected by the UN General Assembly, the other five appointed by the UN Human Rights Council. I’m the representative from the United States. What we do have is an opportunity through that platform to bring people from around the world of African descent together to talk about these issues, including education. And I put in a little plug, April 16th, we’re going to be having our yearly meeting. A whole day is going to be set aside for education. It’s an opportunity for us to look at these issues from a global perspective, from a human rights perspective, from the perspective of people of African descent specifically, a perspective that can be mobilized to uplift and strengthen and empower our youth and find ways for us to create a global curriculum where people of African descent in the Caribbean, South America, on the continent of Africa can all learn how to discuss our history in a way that will be uplifting and empowering and that will connect us and help us move into the future on one accord. Africa as a continent, for example, the youngest continent, they’re expecting there to be more Africans than Chinese by the turn of the next century because the continent is so young, so much in terms of raw materials is available. Looking at these issues from a global perspective, also continuing to have that rights orientation, moving from constitutional rights to human rights, I think those are two mechanisms that can lead us into a future analysis of these issues that’s more robust. I always tell people that the human rights framework is, in my view, a more robust framework. It gives us more rights than the constitutional framework alone does. Remember, we still don’t even have a constitutional right to education per se in the Constitution. Some states have argued for that. But on the federal level, our Constitution is falling short in a way that the declarations that we have put together on the human rights level have not fallen short. I believe that’s why The Leadership Conference, it’s not just a leadership conference for civil rights, but it’s a leadership conference for human and civil rights because we know that that’s an important lens that we have to bring to the table in all of our discussions, including this discussion, including the education discussion and the discussion for inclusion. This is another platform for us to do so. But whatever platform we use in amicus briefs and advocacy, remembering to mobilize the discourse of rights, that just gives our movement more strength. It’s what Dr. King did. If you think back to his first speech starting the Montgomery movement, the bus boycott was being announced, you know that famous speech he made where he talked about how… He said, ” If we are wrong, the Supreme Court is wrong. If we are wrong, God himself is wrong,” because he was talking about the fact that they had a right to be treated equally, and that empowered the movement in Montgomery. And it allowed people to say that, ” We deserve equal treatment, and we are going to boycott this bus system because they’re not giving us what we deserve.” So that language of rights, I’m in these spaces where people are sometimes critical of some of the old techniques and people are really thinking about more radical practices. But I don’t think that is a conflict with our traditions fighting for liberation and liberation struggles and using our legacy, our understanding and appreciation of Dr. King and that movement as an inspiration and as guidance going forward. I think that’s the best thing that we can do. This is a great opportunity for us to remember that legacy on his birthday.
Kanya Bennett: Justin, thanks for closing us out in that way. I want to acknowledge all of you, Terah, ReNika, Justin, as the drum majors that Dr. King’s legacy asks of us. And you all are not afraid to show up, stand up, and make way for justice and equality. I know Justin flagged an event in April. Renika talked about a report. I do want to give you all one last opportunity to offer a call to action. At the very least, what should people be reading? I know you all have books, articles. And is there an immediate space in which people can plug in? So Renika, let me have you hop in.
ReNika Moore: Justin mentioned the efforts to shut down speech and campus discussion and dialogue. So we have litigation in Florida against Governor DeSantis challenging a law that Chris Rufo was one of the architects, that was the backlash to the post- George Floyd moment. And we represent students and professors in that lawsuit. And then we have similar lawsuits in Oklahoma and New Hampshire. And so I think what we’re seeing is attempts to shut down these difficult but necessary conversations, the instruction of students, and students wanting to have these conversations, professors having expertise in being able to shut down. So we need to look deeper. We need to look into these attacks on DEI are really about attacks on education and rigor and being really honest about how we look at our country’s history, how we look at the rest of the world. And so I encourage people to read, I always go blank when they ask what book to read, but I was actually rereading Taylor Branch’s opus about the civil rights movement. That’s kind of heavy, so I’ll try to think of something shorter. But I think the ACLU is often engaged in activities and we will be pushing back against many of the efforts to defund DEI offices. There are efforts in the House that are pending and attempting. We don’t believe those will be successful, but many states are also engaged in these efforts to defund, whether it’s DEI offices within government positions or efforts by cities. There’s an ACLU affiliate or chapter in every state in Washington, DC and Puerto Rico to join and to be able to support. We often have petitions going to push back. I encourage folks to get involved with their local school boards. A lot of this action is happening at the school board level as well. So those are a couple of the things that I think people can do to stay informed. And I’ll turn it over to the academics and instructors of us to encourage a reading list.
Kanya Bennett: Yes, your book’s included on that reading list. Terah.
Dr. Terah Venzant Chambers: I guess I should say I have a book out. It’s called Racial Opportunity Cost: The Toll of Academic Success on Black and Latinx Students with Harvard Ed Press. Check it out. But what I would rather talk about is May will be the 70th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. It would be a great focus for a Pod For The Cause episode.
Kanya Bennett: Thank you, Terah. You may be back.
Dr. Terah Venzant Chambers: Oh, true. Yes. I wasn’t trying to invite myself back, but it does give us an opportunity to think about where have we come, where are we going? And on this King holiday, it also makes me think about hope. I don’t want to be so pessimistic always about these things. And so Black folks have always had a sense of hope, especially about education. The stories that I am most inspired by, even as they are also infuriatingly unjust, are stories about the unstoppable efforts among Black folks to become educated. During slavery, after slavery, learning has always been our jam. Even when tax dollars were diverted to white schools, we taxed ourselves again. Here’s another reading recommendation. James Anderson has a book called The Education of Blacks in the South, which is must read for anyone who’s not familiar with it, but tax ourselves again, so that we would have schools and could pay a teacher to give our children their lessons. We could not be stopped, and it made white folks so mad. But our grandparents and great- grandparents did that because they equated education with liberation, with freedom, with possibility, with dreams. And when I think about what schools could be or what young folks should experience in schools, especially young folks from minoritized backgrounds, what I most want for them is to experience education as a place of possibility and belonging and freedom and dreaming. What a gift to enter adulthood with that foundation. What would it take if we were able to do that for them, to give that to them? What would it mean for our society if we could do that? That, my friend, is what I really think Dr. King would be fighting for if he were alive today, that kind of radical education.
Justin Hansford: Wow. You just dropped the mic on that one.
Kanya Bennett: Dropped it. Listeners, you heard it here from our drum majors, these calls to action, these charges. So thank you all for tuning in. Terah, ReNika, Justin, thank you so much for being here today.
Justin Hansford: All right, thanks for having us.
ReNika Moore: Thank you.
Dr. Terah Venzant Chambers: Thanks y’all.
Kanya Bennett: Thank you for joining us today on Pod For The Cause, the official podcast of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and The Leadership Conference Education Fund. For more information, please visit civilrights. org. And to connect with us, hit us up on Instagram and Twitter @ civilrightsorg. You can text us, text civil rights, that’s two words, civil rights, to 52199 to keep up with our latest updates. Be sure to subscribe to our show on your favorite podcast app and leave a five star review. Thank you to our production team, Shalonda Hunter, Dena Craig, Taelor Nicholas, Oprah Cunningham, and Eunic Epstein- Ortiz. And that’s it from me, your host, Kanya Bennett. Until next time, let’s keep fighting for an America as good as its ideals.