On days like today, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, TN, or any day acknowledging a pivotal moment in history for that matter, we all remember the person for what we have come to learn and appreciate about them.
Today, we’ll all “be” Dr. King. We’ll share his powerful words. We’ll reflect on the lessons we believe his work taught us. We’ll become activists for a day. The cynic in me wants to complete this by saying:
Then tomorrow we’ll back to business as usual…forgetting the very lessons we profess to have learned and assuming our roles defending the success we believe we’ve attained.
But today begs a bit more than cynicism because what type of honor is it to give a man who dedicated his life for the cause of all of us to say nothing has changed and it was not worth it?
It was worth it. I don’t say that just because I should. I say it because I believe it. We are experiencing a sea change in political and social justice leadership that I believe will get us closer to that robust vision that an Economic Bill of Rights would have provided. It has brought us some of my personally favorite modern movement and history makers like Alicia Garza, Eunique Jones Gibson, Lateefah Simon, Tami Sawyer, Wes Bellamy, Marley Dias, and my dear friend, Tiffany Williams Roberts. Unlike many, I do not believe that this sea change is defined by youth. Many are young — certainly — but more than anything they are committed to the needs of people. They act with purpose. They refuse to wear the badge of complicity in the economic, social, or political marginalization of others. To them, failure means that their children are left fighting the same fights 25 years from now.
Fine, I’ll speak for myself. That’s what I believe and it’s why I do what I do. It’s not ambition it’s assignment.
I’m a granddaughter of Mississippi and a daughter of Memphis who has set roots in Prince George’s County, MD. While my accent might not be as recognizable, my purpose goes with me wherever I go. It is a purpose instilled in me by my parents and family, cultivated by my life experiences, and nurtured by my academic pursuits. That purpose is one that knows that housing, jobs, and education are the backbone of strong communities. It’s one that believes deeply in second chances — that accusation, conviction, or incarceration should not limit opportunities for education, employment, or civic participation. It’s one that places a premium on social justice and equity as a means to economic growth. Candidly, it’s also driven by what I see missing in my hometown. As a native Memphian on the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King, I am compelled to assess and renew my personal commitment to helping fulfill his legacy.
In Prince George’s County we have the economic and political power that, by most accounts, should mean that we are our first caretakers. Somehow, though, in building the “bench” of people to carry the vision, we may have left the purpose box unchecked. We cannot allow ourselves to be deluded by allegiances and alliances attempting to serve as a substitute for purpose. There’s too much at stake for us.
I ran for city council in Hyattsville 7 years ago because I wanted to ensure that Hyattsville would always be a place that my children could call home. My dream is for my children to inherit an even better world than they have now and to have had a part in creating it. That dream continues for all of the children in my community and Prince George’s County.
In 25 years, my children will be about the age I am now. Maybe they’ll have children of their own. My greatest fear is that I will have failed them and in my mind, I will have failed them in my life’s work if:
- They no longer live in Prince George’s County because there’s no opportunity for them to make a living. At minimum, a “living” is one that allows them to eat healthy meals if they choose, see a doctor when they need them and even when they don’t, not live isolated from economic and social opportunities, not be handcuffed by educational debt, and get a full night’s sleep.
- They cannot afford to live or own property in Prince George’s County.
- They do not trust that their children can receive a first-class education in Prince George’s County.
- They cannot get access to loans and capital to start a business if they so desired.
- Their parents (my husband and I) can no longer live — as I’ve globally defined it — in Prince George’s County.
- In a county where most in power look like them, they feel unsafe due to violence because of racism or any other –ism.
- They have to convince their local government that the needs of the least of us are important.
I am convinced that the assignment I have in public service is the reflection of what Dr. King challenged us all to when he said, “I think it is necessary for us to realize that we have moved from the era of civil rights to the era of human rights…In short, we have moved into an era where we are called upon to raise certain basic questions about the whole society.” There are many like me in the Washington, DC area — lost children of Memphis and Mississippi — and in many ways, the roots we have placed in this area are our providence. It is the spiritual connection of a purpose that was set in motion now 50 years ago and we seek to realize what we believe is possible.
As for me, I believe in the promise of Prince George’s County and am working everyday to help fulfill it for my family and for yours. And, there’s a team of Memphians behind me helping do it.
Candace Hollingsworth is the mayor of the City of Hyattsville and a candidate for Prince George’s County Council, District 2. You can learn more about her campaign at www.candacehollingsworth.com.