Detroit —The advances and lingering conflicts since civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was slain 50 years ago anchored a panel discussion Friday presented by the National Association of Black Journalists.
Held on the third day of the group’s convention in the Motor City, the plenary drew more than 400 people to a ballroom at the Detroit Marriott in the Renaissance Center to hear insight from activists and public figures on challenges facing minorities across the United States in 2018.
Among them was Georgia resident Stacey Abrams, whose effort to become the nation’s first black woman elected governor has made her a national political celebrity. In May, the Yale-educated attorney and romance novelist who served a decade in the Georgia Legislature easily won the Democratic nomination to seek the top spot in a state where Republicans have held every statewide office from U.S. senator to insurance commissioner.
During an interview with CNN national correspondent Suzanne Malveaux, Abrams acknowledged “the transformative moment” but insisted it was not solely a spotlight on her campaign.
“I am privileged to stand in the space of history,” she said. “But for me, it’s only history if I’m doing it to make sure there’s space for everyone else.”
Abrams, who won 76 percent of the Democratic vote and earned an endorsement former U.S. President Barack Obama, also described how her campaign is gaining support by reaching out to a wide swath — including majority-white counties.
“This is not the Georgia of 1998, and it’s not the Georgia of 1968,” she said. “It is a very different state that has a much more diverse and rich nature.”
Diversity and the importance of minority representation also was the focus of discussion Friday.
Benjamin Crump, a civil rights attorney who represented the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, mentioned how the slayings of those teens and other African-Americans tragically underscored how law enforcement treats minorities. But the issue permeates other segments of society, as well, he said — citing unequal treatment in the legal system.
“As bad as it is … it is far worse how they kill our children in courtrooms everyday in America, in every city, in every state, with these trumped up felony convictions,” Crump said to applause. “.. Once you have that felony conviction and you’re a young person of color, it’s almost impossible for you to get a decent living wage job, to put a roof overhead, to put food on the table, to keep lights on.”
Other speakers urged journalists to reframe the narrative on King’s legacy and the civil rights movement.
“Every cycle we put a movement in a box,” said Dominique Alexander, president/founder of the Next Generation Action Network. “We talk about the civil rights movement — they were fighting for human decency, human rights.”
Coupled with fighting for social justice is heading to the polls to elect candidates and change policies, said Michael Eric Dyson, a Georgetown University professor and author. “Voting is critical, not just for the president. … Voting still makes a difference.”
The message was enlightening for Shyra Duncan, a freelance broadcaster from Atlanta who attended.
“We need to make our voices heard,” she said. “Voting is important for our future.”
The Associated Press contributed.