As the nation looks to celebrate the life and times of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, his dream of equality and peace continues to be an ongoing battle for Black communities. With a growing rate of police brutality, unjust and inhumane treatment and medical neglect, African Americans, while making several advancements, still have a long road ahead to obtain equal human rights.
Community leaders across the city are continuing the fight for Black and Brown populations. Maintaining the dream of King, these leaders are making an impact in their own way while keeping lessons of the past in the forefront.
Nakia-Renne Wallace, co-founder of Detroit Will Breathe, uses her platform and knowledge of the city to lead her community on issues of police brutality, social justice and systematic racism. A catalyst in Detroit, Wallace believes that to effect meaningful change, one must provoke it.
“The point of protest is to be disruptive. If you are marching through downtown Detroit in the middle of the workday, if you are holding a rally outside of a city or county building, or you are calling into city council Zoom meetings, that’s not a peaceful action and it’s not meant to be,” Wallace says.
For the Detroit native, the city has long played an instrumental role in the resurgence of Black and Brown communities.
“Detroit has a really strong foundation in the Black radical tradition and Detroit has always been a pivotal place and a pivotal battleground in the fight for Black liberation and in the fight towards equality,” Wallace says. “What we see now is not necessarily a new phenomenon in terms of Detroit. In fact, if we were to look at the history of activism in the city, it actually makes perfect sense the role that we’ve taken on this summer and last year.”
In progressing, the importance of fact-based conversation around the Civil Rights icon is key in leading the Black community to current day civil rights resolutions. For Wallace, creating a system of equal rights, sustainability and adequate resources for people of color is how she is continuing the fight.
“Housing, food, water and healthcare are human rights; that’s what we envision. We envision a world where people have the right to live and be treated as human beings,” Wallace says. “We envision a world where the state does not have the power to not only murder you but to starve your community of resources and that be okay.”
Community visionary for FORCE Detroit, James “Screal” Eberheart Jr, is taking a different approach to achieving Dr. King’s dream. An organization that focuses on criminal justice reform, community and police accountability, as well as human trafficking, FORCE Detroit also leads the community in narrative building as well as youth and millennial organizing.
Also affiliated with Own Your Story and New Era Detroit, the community activist uses an approach like Dr. King’s to address the needs of the people.
“I never was taught to hate so that’s where I embody King’s vision because he led with love and peace,” Eberheart says. “I take that and use his principles.”
Mental health and its impact on the community is a cause near and dear to Eberheart. Educating neighborhoods on the effects of racism on mental health, he left a career in corporate America to dive back into activism.
“The reason why I started off doing what I’m doing in the community is because of mental health. That’s the main thing,” Eberheart says. “Racism is a mental aspect, it’s a mental health aspect.”
Self-sustainability is essential in advancement according to the community visionary. Using the formation of successful Black cities as the blueprint in furthering Dr. King’s dream, reestablishing spaces of Blackness will help to move African Americans towards economic and social stability.
“In order for us to move and progress and get to the next level, in my mind, build our own and support our own,” Eberheart says. “We had Black Bottom, we had Tulsa, we had Greenwood, we had all these prominent locations and thriving communities throughout history that showed us the resilience and the generational wealth that was there.”
Through his reach in the community, Eberheart is able to spread the knowledge of King and continue his efforts with youth.
“We have to continue to teach them what’s tangible,” Eberheart says.
The Black Lives Matter organization has played an instrumental role in the fight for social justice across the country. As a result of the 2013 murder of Florida teen Trayvon Martin, Black Lives Matter took to the streets to march and protest racial injustice. Since then, expansions have formed in many largely Black cities across the country. As co-lead organizer for Black Lives Matter Detroit, Curtis Renee believes Dr. King’s memory serves as a reminder to base efforts in love.
“I think his legacy is a reminder of how important love is and how strong of a force it is,” Renee says.
From organizing marches to feeding the neighborhood locally grown produce from the city’s urban farms, Renee and BLM Detroit engages with the county to support social activism and food sovereignty.
“With BLM really, specifically, we’ve delivered over 400 CSA boxes, which is community supported agriculture which is really wonderful because a lot of the produce came from Black farms within the city of Detroit,” Renee says.
As the education system faces constant change, digital divides in Black and Brown communities, and high failure rates in urban neighborhoods, spreading knowledge about Black history and its icons is essential in community building.
“The education system is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do, so to think that it is broken is incorrect. That means we need to create our own systems in educating our youth and, also, educating ourselves,” Renee explains.
Embracing ideas and collaborative efforts from multiple participants during the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. King met and spoke with other community leaders to enrich the lives of Black people. Despite varying approaches, Dr. King and his peers strived for the same common goal. Aligning with the same concept, the BLM activist believes together, leaders can guide the Black community to the next level in equality.
“It’s really important for us not to solely depend on one leader,” Renee says. “What we all bring to the table as a collective is what we will need to make change and to create the world that we imagine around us.”