Hot Topics 2/14/18
The LWVOC’s Black History Month programs are becoming part of history. Last year, we heard from speakers who shared their school-integration stories in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Two years ago, Gilbert King talked about “Devil in the Grove,” his Pulitzer Prize-winning book about the infamous Groveland Four case in Lake County in 1949. On Wednesday, for a program titled “The Dream Keepers – Does the Dream Live On?,” panelists spoke about civil rights and education in the 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 assassination.
Darryl Owens, communications director at Beacon College in Leesburg (and former Orlando Sentinel columnist), moderated as Lyman Brodie, Barbara Jenkins and LaFontaine Oliver shared their experiences from three different points on the King timeline.
Brodie, a longtime member of the Orlando Philharmonic as well as a dean at UCF, said he was in college in Tampa at the time of Dr. King’s murder. He said there were segregation issues when he was in school, such as Jim Crow laws and “separate but unequal” facilities. “As kids, we knew we had to achieve something,” he said, adding that he is a firm believer in mentorship – “I got my first orchestra job through a mentor.”
Dr. Jenkins, superintendent of Orange County Public Schools, was 7 when MLK died. “We were afraid that all Dr. King stood for would come to nothing that day,” she said. In her elementary-school days, she said, kids became aware that their textbooks were hand-me-downs from more affluent schools and that not all the white teachers being transferred to black schools, under desegregation plans, wanted to be there.
Oliver, president and general manager of 90.7 WMFE, is 40 so he wasn’t alive when Dr. King was assassinated. He went to integrated schools in Washington, D.C., “so I’m living the dream – but I can’t get caught sleeping,” due to present-day profiling and other problems that undermine progress. Still, he says he benefitted from Dr. King’s labors.
All three panelists agreed that there is still work to be done. “If Dr. King looked in on us now, he’d be disappointed that we haven’t come further. He’d be disturbed at the rhetoric today,” Dr. Jenkins said. Oliver is all for solid journalism (what he calls “the oxygen of democracy”) and is disappointed that people aren’t open to hearing both sides of an issue. Brodie said an avenue for moving forward is by “experiencing things you haven’t done before. People always find way to separate so let’s find more ways to get together.”
As a bonus, Opus, an ensemble from Jones High School, offered six stirring numbers, including “Wade in the Water” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the Negro National Anthem.