“Maybe by blatantly exposing our differences, the election results will provide us the opportunity to bond over common ground.”
The United States always has been disjointed. Whether it be by race, gender, or class, the qualities that separate us also have prevented the progression of equality. This divide is not new to minorities. We are constantly aware of that line. We live there. However, on the heels of the presidential election, that divide is now visible to many non-minorities as well. There seems to be a permanent sense of disbelief from voters whose candidate did not win. They are angry. They are afraid. They are nearing the minority side of the line. And we welcome them. Now that they too know what it is like to have no voice, perhaps we can lend ours. Maybe by blatantly exposing our differences, the election results will provide us the opportunity to bond over common ground. All of us have a stake in the future of this country. We have hope.
To discuss ways of facilitating this dialogue, who better to weigh in than Lynchburg’s social activist Leslie King? As a consultant, King wears many hats, and is especially skillful at working with organizations to bring about change through community development and engagement as well as non-profit capacity building. Most recently, she worked with the Ohio health department on the mortality rates of black infants. In some Ohio communities, the mortality of black infants is the same as in some third-world countries. King says these statistics transcend educational and economic status. Therefore, the problem is not just about education or wealth. “We’re working to figure out why so we can work to change the outcome,” she says. As a strategist, King develops the best ways to implement the needed changes in any given field.
Q: “Change” is a word we hear often in relation to politics. Candidates tend to use the promise of change in their platform. So let us address the elephant in the room. What are your thoughts about the current political climate?
A: It’s interesting because I did a presentation at Penn State last year (on this subject). Students were talking about the election and the state of democracy. There seemed to be some disdain. They commented that Trump didn’t represent America. My response was that I think Trump is as American as apple pie. He is a product of this country, of our history, of the truths that people are afraid to wrestle with. In some ways, I wasn’t surprised that he won. I think it illuminated what is going on in our society, and what has been going on for generations. Now we can’t continue to hold on to the illusion of unity, without addressing the difficult issues. Now we are forced to have that dialogue. In many ways that is what I assist communities in doing, just on a larger scale. But those conversations must be in the smaller localities as well. Change is not a one-time push button. It’s going to take time. The process will need to be ongoing to have lasting results. Superficial symbolism needs to be replaced by genuine acts of substance.
Q: February is Black History Month. Do you think it’s damaging to limit black history to one month a year?
A: I think Black History Month is vital. Ideally, it wouldn’t be necessary and black history would be woven into the school curriculum all year. However, that isn’t the case. So, it’s important that we take that time to learn about the past. We need to know the contributions that our ancestors made to this country and the future generations deserve to know about the work we are doing right now. I just started working on a local chapter of The Association for the Study of African American Life and History. The national organization was founded by Carter G. Woodson, who also created Black History Month, which was originally only a week. He recognized the value that history plays in one’s identity. To know who you are you need to know where you come from. I think Americans in general don’t really appreciate history. Maybe if we can understand and genuinely face the past, we can understand not only where we are right now, but how we got here as a society. And we do need to expand on what is being taught. There is more to it than the same figures and leaders being referenced every year. There are men and women who are never mentioned. Particularly black women are left out of the narrative. That needs to change. And black history isn’t just important to black people. It’s important to everyone, because it’s also America’s history.
Q: You are in partnership with Many Voices-One Community. Tell us more about that.
A: Originally, it was a partnership between the city of Lynchburg and several community leaders. In 2007 it was formed in response to a specific incident. There was a black man (Clarence Beard) who died while in the custody of white police officers. There also were other events that had racial undertones. People were upset, so a group of them approached the city. The city realized something had to be done. That something was Many Voices-One Community. There were over 1,000 people involved in small group discussions that happened citywide. Many positive initiatives were born of that, namely The Beacon of Hope. The Beacon of Hope works with Lynchburg City Schools offering mentoring. They introduce elementary school children to the path of college and offer scholarships to high schoolers who cannot afford tuition. They also collaborate with local business to offer internships so there is an opportunity to gain real life experience in the workplace. Last November MVOC hosted the Fourth Annual Race, Poverty, and Social Justice Conference. Again, this was another way to continue the dialogue and expand the effort for change. This year there were more college-age attendants than in the past and that is encouraging. They are willing to show up and voice their concerns, and listen to others. We had workshops that not only dealt with racial issues, but also health issues and wealth building. There is a 24-percent poverty rate here. We address that. We have had art-themed sessions. You don’t always see results of your efforts right away, but I know our work is making a difference…connections are being made…collaborations are happening… progress is being made. We do have many voices, but we are one community.
Q: Are there any political aspirations in your future by chance?
A: I am not sure what the future may hold. At this point, I'm focused on community building through engagement, education and developing other leaders. That being said I'm not ruling out the possibility.
To Contact Leslie King email: LeslieKing@POBox.com