This morning, I had the honor of being the Guest Speaker at the 26th Annual Pre-MLK Day Breakfast, sponsored by the Parker County, Texas NAACP Branch #6321. I spoke immediately after the viewing of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. A hard act to follow. Here is the text of that speech:
First and foremost, I would like to thank the Parker County branch of the NAACP for inviting me to speak this morning. It might seem a bit unusual for someone of Hispanic and Native American heritage to be speaking at an event to celebrate and honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. but when one takes the time to ponder that issue, it becomes clear that we, as communities of color, have shared much throughout our parallel history as a people.
Needless to say, the speech you just heard is one of the most important speeches in American history. In Martin Luther King Jr’s famous speech “I Have a Dream” he states the following: “the marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.”
In Dr. King’s original manuscript, before the final sentence in this section, he added the words “This offense we share mounted to storm the battlements of injustice must be carried forth by a biracial Army.”
What many people don’t realize, halfway across the country, in the farming communities of California, Cesar Chavez had been marching and demonstrating during the same period that Dr. King was marching and demonstrating for rights of the marginalized. Chavez was seeking basic civil rights for Mexican, Puerto Rican and Filipino farmworkers who worked under horrible conditions. Both Dr. King and Cesar Chavez believed in “militant nonviolence.”
Dr. King and Cesar Chavez held a mutual respect for one another, as they were true contemporaries in a time of social change.
In fact, in September of 1966, Dr. King sent a telegram to Cesar Chavez which read:
“The fight for equality must be fought on many fronts – in the urban slums, in the sweatshops of the factories and fields. Our separate struggles are really one – a struggle for freedom, for dignity and for humanity. You and your fellow workers have demonstrated your commitment to righting grievous wrongs forced upon exploited people. We are together with you in spirit and in determination that our dreams for a better tomorrow will be realized.”
Earlier that year, Chavez led a march from Delano, California to Sacramento. The march was approximately 300 miles and was held to have demands of Mexican, Puerto Rican and Filipino farmworkers heard and to bring light to the manner in which farmworkers were mistreated.
On the death of Dr. King, Chavez said the following:
“My friends, if we are going to end the suffering, we must use the same people power that vanquished injustice in Montgomery, Selma and Birmingham.
“I have seen many boycotts succeed. Dr. King showed us the way with the bus boycott, and with our first boycott we were able to get DDT, Aldrin, and Dieldrin banned in our first contracts with grape growers. Now, even more urgently, we are trying to get deadly pesticides banned.
“The growers and their allies have tried to stop us for years with intimidation, with character assassination, with public relations campaigns, with outright lies, and with murder.
“But those same tactics did not stop Dr. King, and they will not stop us.
“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed.
“You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. And you cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”
The United Farm Worker movement and the Civil Rights movement were intractably interwoven into a tapestry of shared histories and marginalization by those who saw people of color as something less than human.
Dr. King states in the speech we just heard that “five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the emancipation proclamation.” Attempts to organize farmworkers in California and the Southwest had been going on for that same 100 years. It was only when the Farm Workers movement adopted the Gandhi-born practices that Dr. King used in the Civil Rights movement that the United Farm Workers gained traction.
But our histories, as people of color seeking equality and equity in the United States goes far deeper. It is born of a mutual history of kidnapping, enslavement, and murder. It is a mutual history of seeking to be recognized as people and not property. It is a mutual history of seeking what is right and what is just, denied to us because of our ethnicity, our language, our national origin, and more often than not, simply the color of our skin. And yet, we now face, and will face in the future, a history that seems to go backward to a day when white supremacy was the rule and people of color were viewed with animosity and hatred.
The Equal Justice Initiative, in Montgomery Alabama, reports that there were 3,959 lynchings in 12 southern states between 1877 and 1950.
From 1848 until 1928, thousands of Mexicans were murdered by mobs. Many of these at the hands of Texas Rangers and deputized officers. Occurring throughout the Southwest, but also in places like Nebraska and Wyoming, there were at least 547 documented lynchings of Mexicans during that time period.
We cannot forget the internment camps to which entire Japanese-American communities were forced into during World War II or the repatriation of Mexican Americans during the depression in the name of job scarcity. More than 2 million men, women, and children were deported to Mexico. Over 60% (1.2 million) of those were American citizens.
And, we cannot leave out the genocide committed against our First Nations people.
But now, I think, for people of color, there is a new type of lynching occurring. It is found in the horrific legislation and judicial rulings that we have suffered and have borne upon our backs since April 4, 1968, and more so, recently, that makes me wonder if we will ever see Dr. King’s dream realized.
Dr. King wrote in his manuscript for a proposed book entitled “On Being a Good Neighbor,” the following:
“It may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.”
But, 55 years after Dr. King wrote those words, the heartless are no longer restrained by judicial decrees, nor does their behavior seem to be regulated. Yes, it is true that morality cannot be legislated, but it seems as if the heartless have been given free rein through the acts of presidential tweets, comments, executive orders and Congressional non-action. We have seen the Supreme Court gut the Voting Rights Act. We have seen Cliven Bundy, who led an armed standoff against federal agents, have charges dismissed just last week. And yet who can forget the images of peaceful protesters being gassed by militarized police officers in Ferguson? How can we dismiss from our minds the images of Baltimore, of Milwaukee, of Tamir Rice in Cleveland, of San Jose, Albuquerque, Los Angeles, and across this nation? How can we forget the failure to charge the vast majority of police officers who, according to the Washington Post, shot 987 civilians in 2017, of which 236 of those killed suffered mental illness, 68 or more were unarmed, nearly 600 were not fleeing, and at least half were people of color.
And yet, many in this country look to the false narrative of “Make America Great Again.” How is it proposed to do this?
We limit, or eliminate entirely, immigration. We decry immigration from certain countries in the most desultory, profane and obscene manner. We refer to those fleeing violent-ridden and war-entrenched countries as murderers and rapists and terrorists by lumping large groups of people together despite their cultural and national differences. We embrace American Christianity at the expense of those middle eastern Christians who faced death for practicing their faith. We demoralize and demonize religions and faith of others while living in the idolatries of white privilege and status quo. And we stand by and watch as Congress works to approve an immoral budget that is fraught with racism, xenophobia and jingoism.
For instance, the house has approved the budget that may increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion. $1 trillion will be cut from Medicaid and $470 million will be cut from Medicare. And yet Congress has approved $1.6 billion for the start of a wall along the US Mexico border. It has been suggested that this wall will eventually cost $18 billion or more. And now, a tax reform that greases the palms of the very wealthy and corporations and yet hurts those families who live modestly within their means.
How does it Make America Great Again when its leadership slashes $150 million from HIV-AIDS programs at the US Center for disease control and prevention, $26 million from a program designed to house those living with AIDS, and just over $1 billion for programs which seek to treat and prevent HIV and AIDS abroad? And yet, just a few miles to the east of us, in Tarrant County, the leading cause of death for black women between the ages of 25 and 34 is AIDS. For black women between the ages of 35 and 44, it is the second leading cause of death.
How does it Make America Great Again when approximately 40% of those receiving treatment for HIV and AIDS in America received that treatment through Medicaid. The current administration is doing its best to eliminate access to medical care through the elimination of the Affordable Care Act and through massive cuts in Medicaid and Medicare.
And to add insult to injury, two weeks ago the President fired those members remaining on the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (other members had previously resigned in protest to Trump’s budget cuts) and has yet to appoint a director to the White House office on national AIDS policy.
Why is this important? Because 45% of people living with AIDS in America are black, despite making up only 12% of the population. About one-quarter of all new HIV diagnoses are among Hispanics/Latinos who make an 18% American population.
Approximately one-third of the population of the United States suffers from diabetes. The burden of diabetes is much greater for minority populations than the white population. For example, 10.8 percent of non-Hispanic blacks, 10.6 percent of Mexican Americans, and 9.0 percent of American Indians have diabetes, compared with 6.2 percent of whites.
Certain minorities also have much higher rates of diabetes-related complications and death, in some instances by as much as 50 percent more than the total population.
Specifically, the American Diabetes Association reports that African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans experience a 50–100% higher burden of illness and mortality from diabetes than white Americans.
4.9 million African-American adults, or 18.7% of all African Americans ≥ 20 years of age, have diagnosed or undiagnosed diabetes than non-Hispanic whites
The risk of diabetes is 77% higher among African Americans than among non-Hispanic white Americans.
African Americans are almost 50% more likely to develop diabetic retinopathy than non-Hispanic whites.
11.8% of Hispanic/Latino Americans ≥ 20 years of age have been diagnosed with diabetes.
The risk of diabetes is 66% higher among Hispanic/Latino Americans than among non-Hispanic white Americans.
Hispanics are 1.5 times more likely than non-Hispanic whites to die from diabetes.
Diabetes was the fifth-leading cause of death for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, rising from being the eighth-leading cause of death in 1980.
Native Hawaiians have death rates from diabetes that are 22% higher than that of the entire U.S. population.
Asian-American women are 177% more likely to test positive for gestational diabetes mellitus than white women and tend to develop it at a lower body weight.
At nearly 16.1%, American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest age-adjusted prevalence of diabetes among U.S. racial and ethnic groups.
In the last decade, the rate of death due to diabetes for American Indians and Alaska Natives was three times higher than that of the general U.S. population.
And yet, The Eliminating Disparities in the Diabetes Prevention, Access, and Care Act was sent to the House Subcommittee on Health on June 5, 2015 where it apparently has taken up permanent residence.
When it comes to suffering high blood pressure and hypertension Hispanics are at an elevated rate than non-Hispanic whites. 36% of blacks suffer high blood pressure and/or hypertension.
This, is the new lynching. It is done through the courts. It is done through legislation at the federal and state level. It is done through executive order. And it is done not in the dark of night, on horseback, with Night Riders wearing white hoods. It is done through the hateful invective we hear from the highest offices, from news sources that were once objective but now only exist for entertainment. It comes equally from the alt-right and from the extreme left. And it comes from the Democrats and the Republicans by overt action and overt inaction. It is spread virally across our Facebook pages. And it is spewed on Twitter feeds.
And the consequences, for people of color, are truly life and death issues. They are affecting our ability to vote, our ability to earn a living wage, our ability to obtain an education at all levels, our ability to seek fair recourse and due process in the courts, and it is dramatically affecting our access to health care by eliminating programs and funding that will curtail treatments for diseases that are chronic and fatal at a disproportionate level to people of color. If that’s not extrajudicial lynching I don’t know what is!
And so you see, I returned to where I started this morning, and hope that I answered the question as to why a person of Hispanic and Native American heritage is speaking to this group. It is because all people of color need the good work of the NAACP. All people of color need to break down the barriers that have explicitly or implicitly been built to keep us from unity and the strength that comes from being one. We must hold one another accountable for, not only registering to vote (a hard-earned right), but also to get out and vote. We must lift our unified voices and demand equal representation by our elected officials, as well as hold our candidates and potential candidates to a high expectation. We can no longer allow our communities to be referred to as a block of voters…we are individuals and communities with unique needs that no political party, political action committee, elected official or candidate can meet if we don’t voice those demands and hold those in power accountable. We can no longer afford to sit in silence. We must overcome our silence and our fears to become the multiracial army Dr. King envisioned and “storm the battlements of injustice” as if our very lives depended on it, because, my brothers and sisters, they do.
As Dr. King said so well, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools” and “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige and even his life for the welfare of others.”
You see, if we are to make it through these trying times, we must make it together. For, unlike John F. Kennedy’s statement that “a rising tide lifts all ships,” we can no longer afford to be in separate boats charting our own separate courses with no rudder and no means to guide us. We must realize that we are in the same boat that must be rowed together – sharing the same moral compass. And in that, may we realize this dream.