What Would Martin Do?

Update:  Thanks to every­one who came out to the 3rd annual “What Would Mar­tin Do?” event.  If you missed it or sim­ply want to enjoy it again, check out the video below.

Yes­ter­day, we cel­e­brated a leg­endary leader who chal­lenged our nation to dream. The ADA Edu­ca­tion Fund will cel­e­brate Dr. Mar­tin Luther King, Jr.’s life and legacy at our upcom­ing “What Would Mar­tin Do?” annual forum in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

WHEN:  Thurs­day, Jan­u­ary 26, 2012, 3:00 p.m.
WHERE: Howard Uni­ver­sity
Dig­i­tal Audi­to­rium, Black­burn Cen­ter
Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

This free forum will fea­ture a panel of dis­tin­guished speak­ers address­ing the ques­tion of how the Rev. Dr. Mar­tin Luther King, Jr., might approach crit­i­cal pol­icy issues fac­ing the coun­try in the 21st cen­tury. Audi­ence par­tic­i­pa­tion is encour­aged in a Q&A section.

Speak­ers include:

  • Mr. William Lucy, Pres­i­dent of the Coali­tion of Black Trade Union­ists
  • Ms. Aisha Moodie-Mills, Advi­sor for LGBT Pol­icy and Racial Jus­tice at the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress
  • Dr. William Spriggs, Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Pol­icy at the U.S. Depart­ment of Labor
  • Rev. Lennox Year­wood, Jr., Pres­i­dent and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus
  • Mr. Steve York, Award Win­ning Doc­u­men­tary Filmmaker

The win­ning essay from the “What Would Mar­tin Do?” national essay con­test will also be read aloud by this year’s win­ner, Marc Bren­man, of Kens­ing­ton, Mary­land.  Read the win­ning essays here.

Here is a link to last year’s event, fea­tured on C-SPAN: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/KingFo

Please join us for this excit­ing event hon­or­ing Dr. King. Addi­tional infor­ma­tion is avail­able on  Face­book and Twit­ter.



What Would Mar­tin Do?” Essay Con­test Winners:

This year the ADA Ed Fund hosted the sec­ond annual “What Would Mar­tin Do?” national essay con­test. The votes have been counted and we have our three winners:

First Place

Marc Bren­man of Kens­ing­ton, Maryland

Mr. Pres­i­dent, I’m proud that you are our first African-American Pres­i­dent. But I’m dis­turbed at your silence on people’s needs dur­ing these Great Reces­sions. You squan­dered your first year in office on an unpop­u­lar health plan that cost you polit­i­cal cap­i­tal. I salute you for risk­ing unpop­u­lar­ity. But other needs cried out for your atten­tion. When you took office, you should have told the Amer­i­can peo­ple that your goals were two: Put Amer­i­cans back to work and keep them in their houses. I under­stand you felt you had to save the bank­ing indus­try because you feared that the eco­nomic sys­tem itself was near col­lapse, but you didn’t need to let it pay out­ra­geous bonuses to its exec­u­tives. I under­stand that you truly believe in bipar­ti­san­ship, and tried to com­pro­mise with Repub­li­cans. But some­times we must take prin­ci­pled posi­tions. Peo­ple are suffering.

You’ve taken some steps toward end­ing the inter­minable wars the Nation has heed­lessly pur­sued. These are not suf­fi­cient. You promised more. You have the great­est rea­son to bring home our young peo­ple and our treasure—to help those in need. Mr. Pres­i­dent, peo­ple want to work– on great things and on com­mon things. Iden­tify these projects; make them hap­pen. Rebuild the elec­tri­cal grid; put solar pan­els on the roof of every house; insu­late those houses; plant trees on the south sides of those houses; keep peo­ple warm in the win­ter and cool in the summer.

It’s hard for a polit­i­cal leader to point out the hypocrisy of his oppo­nents. But you must tell the truth. Some of your oppo­nents have usurped the name of a rev­o­lu­tion­ary movement—the Tea Party— and take gov­ern­ment ben­e­fits with both hands, yet want to deny them to oth­ers. Not a sin­gle Tea Party mem­ber has turned back her Social Secu­rity or Medicare. I fear they want to live in a sick and poor coun­try, behind gates of steel. They live in gated com­mu­ni­ties and too many of our cit­i­zens of color live in a dif­fer­ent kind of gated community—prison. Our Latino broth­ers and sis­ters who only want a bet­ter life for their chil­dren are scorned and die in this nation’s West­ern deserts. Toward them, the prof­fered solu­tion is high and long walls.

We’ve become a nation of walls and gates and per­verted notions of secu­rity. Many on the right idol­ize Ronald Rea­gan, who said “Tear down this Wall.” That wall, that Iron Cur­tain, did come down, but we car­ried it home. Mr. Pres­i­dent, this is your oppor­tu­nity to build the nation up by tear­ing down its bar­ri­ers. In the words of the psalm, I pray that the Walls of Jeri­cho will come tum­bling down. March­ing around them will not be enough. Use what you learned inside the walls of Har­vard Yard and on the mean streets of Chicago. Even if you fail, you enter his­tory as the Man Who Tried. Raise up this nation, so the poor­est among us can find a job, a meal, and a roof over their heads.


Brian Roberts of Gaithers­burg, Maryland

Dr. King did much more than dream. He called out, demanded and fought for the con­di­tions that would make his dream come true for mil­lions of Amer­i­cans. The dream has come true in part and is embod­ied by many peo­ple, but per­haps by no one more than Barack Obama, the 44th Pres­i­dent of the United States.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama. Those words sound sweet; you are a trib­ute to my heart­felt dream for my chil­dren and all chil­dren. And in a sense you are my child. You have taken advan­tage of the oppor­tu­nity I dreamed about so many years ago. I am proud of you, son. I am proud of your lead­er­ship in edu­ca­tion, your under­stand­ing of its impor­tance in your own life and your eager­ness to help oth­ers gain the same knowl­edge and under­stand­ing. So much of your early career was devoted to lead­ing and help­ing oth­ers. You helped adults learn skills for work, tutored young kids, and taught ambi­tious stu­dents con­sti­tu­tional law.

Now you face your great­est chal­lenge. I don’t mean your cur­rent run for re-election. I mean con­tin­u­ing your work help­ing oth­ers in the face of unre­lent­ing adver­sity. How do you help peo­ple when Con­gress is work­ing against you? How do you raise money and main­tain your inde­pen­dence? How do you make your trans­for­ma­tive rhetoric and the faith, hope and pas­sion it gen­er­ates into tan­gi­ble, mean­ing­ful help for peo­ple? These are great chal­lenges. Are you up to it? Can you live up to the lofty and some­what unre­al­is­tic expec­ta­tions? Sadly, no you can’t. Not all by your­self. But you don’t have to.

Don’t ever for­get you have your podium and your pow­er­ful voice. Don’t ever for­get you have help. I have many sons and daugh­ters today; you have many ener­getic, edu­cated and expe­ri­enced broth­ers and sis­ters who can help, want to help and will help. Use your voice to recruit them, to pitch in and edu­cate our young peo­ple, espe­cially the poor­est among us.

And this you must do because so many young peo­ple are going to war instead of going to col­lege, and so many more young peo­ple don’t even grad­u­ate from high school at all. The promise of oppor­tu­nity will never be theirs if they don’t get a good edu­ca­tion. This is a dis­grace in a coun­try as rich as ours, even in a time of great eco­nomic strife. I still refuse to believe the bank of jus­tice is bank­rupt. I still believe in the fierce urgency of now. And I believe in you.

Thank you, Dr. King, for your faith in me, for your guid­ance and your gen­tle reminder of why I’m here. I haven’t for­got­ten. While your dream, and the dreams of my par­ents, has come true for so many peo­ple, we know it can and must come true for so many more. We may not get there in my life­time, yet we will get there. I know because the arc of the moral uni­verse is long but it bends toward justice.”


Monique Hayes of Fort Wash­ing­ton, Maryland

Brother Obama, we sit on a pine porch in Wash­ing­ton over­look­ing a maze of mar­ble build­ings var­nished by the views of Amer­i­cans. Cit­i­zens scat­ter like seeds spread in the first fields of Gen­e­sis. You ask me where they might go while his­toric parch­ments pro­mot­ing free­dom fade in muse­ums, while they read of the strug­gles on cane fields and in South­ern con­fer­ences our ances­tors endured. What will steer them towards the warm thresh­old that leads to con­tent­ment? When water hoses pow­ered by hatred have stopped, when the stained-glass win­dows of churches stay removed from bomb fire, how do you moti­vate them to move in the direc­tion of their dreams?

Sweep away pes­simism, planted by doubts in the dark cor­ners of this portico’s wooden pan­els. Merge the cracks until we’re under an awning of under­stand­ing. Stu­dents of dif­fer­ent races remain in makeshift Occupy camps to stop eighty-year olds from being cast out of homes, to earn funds for text­books that aren’t tat­tered but are inclu­sive. I know the bur­den of trou­bling thoughts when you occupy lunch coun­ters and other pub­lic areas, wish­ing for con­cord. If you slip a work­ing class hand into a wealthy hand, the blood that pulses between their palms is the same. The deter­mi­na­tion of their desires should be deemed wor­thy, mak­ing wrists march across the lines of new laws laced with com­pas­sion as hands write with pur­pose. Then, let your per­sis­tent affec­tion for peo­ple be a bea­con so that they avoid future frac­tures that have no place on the ter­race of broth­erly love.

Usher the weary to the wel­come mat woven by the prin­ci­ples we hold dear. Ide­al­ism should never be ille­gal, for immi­grants have sought shel­ter from the anx­i­eties of the world since this country’s cre­ation. Pass the nec­es­sary paper­work to per­mit them to share in the promise as uncon­cealed equals. Do not allow the con­sciences of your con­stituents to become corpses, their souls shrink­ing because national sta­tis­tics are as dim as the twi­light in front of us. Res­i­dents must learn to work together no mat­ter what route they took.

Guide the youth to swerve away from splin­ters stretch­ing out of the sur­face so they won’t stum­ble: the trenches of drug wars that make them dis­ap­pear, the high incar­cer­a­tion rates that cage the spir­its of young males, the school shoot­ings that shake them at the core. The num­ber of young neigh­bors decreases daily when they take lives or end their own. I read the scroll of national news as I sit here with you and imag­ine the clench­ing of wounded hearts. Tell them to be pos­i­tive excep­tions, not exam­ples, but remind them they are not alone. Col­lect enough well-wishers to make the veranda’s boards creak and wit­ness how many tired Amer­i­cans trans­form into tes­ti­monies of democracy’s resilience.

Brother Obama, stand with me. Stand by me as dusk sur­rounds our porch and we watch the sun warm our thresh­old. The bril­liant stretch of light you see is where your nation will come after a painful but admirable journey.


Please join us again this year for our excit­ing “What Would Mar­tin Do?” Forum.

The Third Annual “What Would Mar­tin Do?” Forum
Co-sponsored by Howard University’s School of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Annen­berg Stu­dent Coun­cil
Date and Time TBD
Dig­i­tal Audi­to­rium in the Black­burn Cen­ter
Howard Uni­ver­sity
2600 Sixth Street NW
Wash­ing­ton, D.C. 20059

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ADA Education Fund

The ADA Edu­ca­tion Fund is an inde­pen­dent, char­i­ta­ble entity that focuses on increas­ing pub­lic aware­ness through edu­ca­tion and com­mu­nity orga­niz­ing that builds capac­ity for change. The Ed Fund pro­duces peri­odic pol­icy briefs, hosts pro­gres­sive speak­ers on a range of issues, spon­sors advo­cacy and research fel­low­ships, and works to expand civic par­tic­i­pa­tion through com­mu­nity orga­niz­ing around eco­nomic and social jus­tice issues.