Every time she speaks at an event, LaTosha Brown starts by asking the audience this question:
“What would America look like without racism?”
Brown is an award-winning cultural activist and expert on Black voting rights and Black female empowerment. She posed this question to begin her keynote address at the 41st annual Martin Luther King Jr. Lecture and Awards Ceremony on Tuesday, a UNC event that is one of the longest-running celebrations of King in the nation.
She then asked if anyone had ever heard that question before. No one raised their hand.
“At the end of the day, there is nothing that comes into being in the physical world that is not first envisioned,” Brown said. “And so the reason why I asked this question is ‘how will we ever live in America that is free of racism when we've not even asked ourselves the question?’”
Selected by the MLK Celebration Committee, the theme of this year’s lecture revolved around the question “What are we striving for?” It was inspired by a quote from King himself.
“We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself,” King said during his “How Long? Not Long” speech delivered in Montgomery, Ala., after the march from Selma. “A society that can live with its conscience.”
In her keynote, Brown said we should be striving to go to higher ground and to accept, affirm and respect each other’s humanity. She said this love and view of humanity has not been centered — and often not even seen.
“The question in this nation around who has access to democracy is still a question, can you believe that?” she said “I can. The reason why I believe that is because we never dealt with the real issue. You can call it voter suppression. You can call it mass incarceration. You can call economic inequity. But all of it, the root of that tree, is structural racism.”
Brown is a co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund and the Black Voters Matter Capacity Building Institute, both of which work to raise Black voter registration and turnout. She said that voting isn’t the end-all-be-all, but it’s critical to think about voting as a tool for self-determination, not as a transaction.
“You have to move out of the position of seeing yourselves as citizens of this nation and see yourselves as founders of a new America,” Brown said.
Awards and events
The UNC MLK Week of Celebration also included award and scholarship presentations.
Sherrod Crum was announced as the 2022 MLK UNC Student Scholarship recipient, an award given annually to a current junior that “best (exemplifies) Dr. King’s commitment to our society,” according to the University Office for Diversity and Inclusion website. The two other finalists were Rhea Bhagia and Jorren Biggs.
Emmanuel Nathan “Nate” Thomas and Kellye Whitaker were awarded this year’s MLK Unsung Heroes Awards, which are given to “up to two UNC staff/faculty, department or community/corporate entity who have exemplified a steadfast commitment to inclusion.”
Thomas is the vice dean for diversity, equity and inclusion at the UNC School of Medicine, and Whitaker is the program manager for SmartUp at the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise.
The University accepts nominations for the MLK Unsung Hero award each year. Applications for the 2023 UNC MLK Student Scholarship will be opened during the fall semester.
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