Jan. 19, 2001

Finding meaning behind King's dreams

"In 2001, What Would Dr. King Say?"

This was the theme for the Martin Luther King, Jr., celebration hosted by the Affirmative Action and Diversity Program. The celebration featured winning essays from area high school students, a dynamic speech from San Diego State University professor of Africana Studies Shirley Weber, and music, poetry and dance from Tabia, an African American cultural performance group.

In her speech, Weber suggested that most Americans have many misperceptions concerning King. "Most people know only two speeches, and nothing in between," she said. "They know ‘I Have a Dream’ and they know ‘I Have Been to the Mountaintop.’ They think of him as what I call The Mountaintop Dreamer."

"If we want to know what Dr. King would say today, let’s look at what he did say, not just the Dream and the Mountaintop," said Weber.

King was a prolific speaker and addressed many topics that are just as relevant today as they were in his time, she said, such as challenges in poverty, education, health care, justice, employment and achievement. People think of King in terms of someone who "had an unequaled capacity to endure hardship with a spirit of love," Weber said. "But King himself said that love without power is sentimental and anemic."

Weber revealed the side of King’s philosophy that "integration was just the start." She pointed out that although King was committed to a philosophy of non-violence, he was a strong advocate of mass civil disobedience, "militant, defiant, yet not destructive."

Based on King’s words, Weber said, "He would be outraged at how he is misquoted. He would be concerned over young people’s violence. He would be concerned with the white privilege of accumulation of wealth. He would be a proponent of reparations for the centuries of slavery this country was built on. He would be in favor of the Congressional Black Caucus recently walking out of Congress. He would be outraged at the complacency over Prop. 209 and other actions at the University of California and throughout this state."

However, Weber said, "He was the greatest American of the 20th century. Though his active career spanned only 13 years, he redefined the nation. He forced America to look at itself and put racism on the center stage."

Above all, Weber concluded, "He would still be the eternal optimist and still believe he had the power to bring change. For as he said, ‘One with right is a majority."

A Hypothetical Conversation between Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ward Connerly
By Erica Hewitt,

Skyline High School

During the 1950s to 1960s, race relations reached a boiling point with demonstrations held throughout the country for equal rights among all citizens. With the help of civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., progress was made to lead Americans into a new age of tolerance.

Despite programs set up to get people of color on the road to equality, roadblocks were faced that have in recent times included the passing of Prop. 209. With the support of Ward Connerly, affirmative action was banned in California in decisions such as college admissions and employment. With this in mind, here is a hypothetical conversation between two influential Americans.

At a neutral location, King and Connerly agreed to meet to discuss their views on race relations. Dr. King began:
"Hello, Mr. Connerly. I would first like to say that in the struggle for equality, race should not be a factor in our society, but reality has brought many to the conclusion that no matter how things may seem, we will always have to deal with this wound that doesn't seem to heal. I still do dream of the day when children will love one another for the content of their character and not the color of their skin, but sometimes assistance is needed in making this dream possible. Our country was not founded on the basis of freedom and friendship to all. We need laws such as affirmative action to live by the motto that "it's not where you start, but where you finish." I'm not saying that people of color should be handed opportunities on a silver platter, but you should also be rewarded for the struggles you have faced and the unequal treatment that has plagued upward mobility in life."

Connerly: "Dr. King, I agree that we should all have the chance to make it in life, but what do we accomplish receiving free rides? Minorities and women can and should use their merits to get what they want in life. It takes work and dedication to succeed, and you should be able to do that without someone giving it to you. American people can be fair despite what the past may have documented."

King: "You want all Americans to succeed, but something has to be done in order for this to become a reality. Discrimination is evident throughout this country. Too many people have died for the rights that the Constitution claims we should not have to work to gain. The fight for racial justice should not exist, but since it does, we must fight to make it happen. "

Connerly: Dr. King, I understand that people may not always be fair, but it is possible and I stick to my beliefs. My plan to get rid of racial preferences is only to help minorities accomplish great things without this type of assistance. I believe that America can only progress and people can only get along with one another if they are given the chance to do it on their own."

They shake hands, then depart.

In life, we roll with the punches and we have to accept what twists we are presented. As an African-American myself, I can't fully grasp the concept of fair treatment, which Connerly claims can easily become a reality. Connerly cannot deny the fact that he benefited from the use of affirmative action, despite what he may claim. Affirmative action is not supposed to be used to place people of color in schools or jobs where they do not belong, but it is to assist them in the struggle to break into new areas of study that have historically been dominated by white people. Its original intent was to reflect the population of America. Without it there will be a long road ahead.

Veronica Tadao
Castlemont High school

As I walked into the admissions office I knew that my chances of getting into this school were slim, but I stuck to my dream.
"How can I obtain an application for undergraduates?"

The lady took one quick stare and asked "What school are you from? What are your SAT scores?" I stood there stunned, not by the questions, but by reality. I knew that my scores were not high enough to compete in the pool of students. I knew that my high school did not prepare me for the rigors of this university. But I wanted my chance to prove that until this point, I was not really in charge of my education.
Unexpectedly, the head of admissions beckoned me to his office.

I walked up to this ominous man and he shook my hand. "Nice to meet you. As you know, I am Ward Connerly. How can I help you today?"
"Mr. Connerly I have really only one question to ask: How do you admit the students into the university?"

"Why, young man, that is a simple question. We base it on standardized test scores and on overall grades from high school."

"Mr. Connerly, is that a true judge of someone's potential?" His phone rang.

As I sat, Mr. Connerly set his phone on speaker, and continued. "Dr. King, I've told you many times race has no place in American life or law."
Then I heard for the first time the unforgettable voice of that amazing human. "Mr. Connerly, a society that has done something specifically against the negro for hundreds of years must now do something specifically for the negro."

"King, you have to understand throughout my lifetime, I have been told that skin color and ethnic background should neither be used to benefit nor to disadvantage any American."

"Connerly, listen to what you are saying, thanks to affirmative action you are where you are now!"

"No, King, the desire to "build diversity" and to practice the "politics of inclusion" has become an excuse to discriminate! YOU are discriminating against other races, just because they are not minorities, or they are not dark enough? We should allow minorities to have a spot in our educational system and turn down other qualified students? King, I do not believe so!"

"Connerly, the writers of the Constituton negated diversity, whether by race or sex. That was then. This is now. Integration is needed. Justice cannot be achieved without changes in the structure of society. This is a multiracial nation where all groups are dependent on each other. If we are to have equality among us, we must begin with little chances that can help many of us that need that extra push to get it."

I decided to make my stand at this point. "Mr. Connerly, I agree with Dr. King, because I come from a low-income area where my school does not offer me much."

Unexpectedly the man that I was admiring spoke to me, "Young man, do you believe that by allowing you to have an extra point to get admitted, you will continue and prove that anyone can pursue higher learning?"

"If I am granted the opportunity, I will perform my best, and succeed! "

"Connerly what more proof do you need? Look at those who have benefited from affirmative action. They may not enter the universities on an equal playing field but they exit on one and that is the point." I realized that both men had good points, but King spoke on behalf of "creating a better society," while Connerly spoke as if we already had an ideal society.

If King were alive today, I believe he would support affirmative action, even though it is not the massive step he knew would have to occur to alleviate the injustices in this society.

A Hypothetical Conversation between Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ward Connerly
By Jason Smart
East Union High School, Manteca

What would it be like if University of California Regent Ward Connerly met with Martin Luther King? It would probably be a lively discussion. Although both men would strongly support the idea of racial equality and wish to end discrimination, they would likely have different perspectives toward the American civil rights issue.

Connerly would argue that in order to end our racial problems, we must end our "addiction" with race. He believes that this obsession with race, especially in the case of affirmative action, has led to reverse discrimination. He is correct in that any system that favors one person over another must involve discrimination. Part of his concern is that diversity is taking precedence over creating a qualified workforce.

Connerly further argues that race relations will only be strained by any attempts to tamper with them. I suspect that if Connerly met with King, he would maintain that the only route to racial equality is by creating a level playing field, in which no person is offered an advantage over another. It is a beautiful and seemingly sensible theory: If we stop treating race as if it were a big deal, it should no longer be one.

I imagine that King would not agree that our racial problems would vanish if we ignore them. Connerly's idea that "race has no place in American life or law" would be ill-suited to King's ongoing struggle to improve the standings of African Americans in this country. Although King might recognize the advantages of creating a level playing field, he would argue that the playing field was never level to begin with. Over 30 years ago, in a land ridden with segregation and discrimination, he asserted that "the negro is still not free."

With racial equality far more a reality now than it was in King's day, would King support affirmative action in our present time? I believe he would. King would not be content until he was confident that equality truly existed in America, and I think he would look to affirmative action as a possible method to achieve his cause. King's nature was not to find satisfaction in how far we have come, but to continue to work toward making the future better. Unlike Connerly, he would not be satisfied with simply ending our focus on race. He stated, "We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. "

Perhaps more important than the different perspectives of these two men are the viewpoints they share. Regardless of the methods they would support to build racial equality, they would both firmly support the notion that society must look beyond the race of an individual. Both would recognize how petty it is to value another person's race over their individual merits. I am sure that Connerly, like King, would hope to live in a country in which everyone "will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Regardless of whose viewpoint one adheres, it is impossible not to support what King stood for, and the struggle he endured to promote racial equality. King's greatness lay in his unwavering devotion to ensuring "justice for all." He had a remarkable ability to inspire others to fight peacefully for justice and to convince others of the validity of his cause. King's non-violent efforts helped create the landmark Civil Rights Act and ensure full rights for all races.He continues to inspire people to seek equality today.

If Connerly could speak with King today, I am sure that despite any differing viewpoints, Connerly would have an immense amount of respect and admiration for King, as this nation and I do today.