by Kemi Role, Director of Workforce and Outreach
When I was in 4th grade, we performed excerpts of the “I Have a Dream” speech at our elementary school assembly. I was assigned the last paragraph of Dr. King’s speech and so I closed out our performance shouting FREE AT LAST, with hands in the air like I was on fire (I practiced for days with my mom). Then we segued into a stirring rendition of Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday. I thought I knew something about Martin Luther King Jr.
But it wasn’t until many years later when I read and listened to his speech “Beyond Vietnam” that I truly understood the radical power and vision of the Civil Rights movement and Dr. King, particularly in his later years. Justice at the Intersection; the recognition and demand that environmental justice, family planning, immigration, poverty, and systemic and government violence were also centered in the fight for racial equality. Beyond Vietnam was the invitation to sit and struggle in the messiness and complexity of our intersections; respectability and lethargic change irrevocably cast aside.
Justice at the intersection has been my guiding lens in creating and evolving the WAHT program, even though it’s taken years of learning, observing, falling and creating to articulate that realization. From day one, WAHT was about honoring all parts of our identity. Bringing the fullness and richness of our histories, stories, and struggle into the workplace and work “space”. In particular, Black women have not historically been allowed to exist in our intersections…patriarchy, racism, classism, all tools in assuring that Black women exist as rudimentary tropes. I’ve been so humbled that WAHT has provided a platform to elevate the complex intersections and perspectives of what black womanness can look like; of what queer identity can look like; of what pregnancy and parenting can look like; of what knowledge and wisdom can look like; of what community can look like. WAHT in big and small ways has demanded that the Clinic sit in the messiness and complexity of these intersections. It’s been life changing to witness the deep courage and commitment of WAHT Fellows, Interns and Western Addition community members in holding me, the WAHT program, and the Clinic accountable to our values of cultural inclusion, harm reduction, and client-centeredness. And there is still so much to do, to discuss, to grow, to practice. I feel blessed to forge ahead in community with all of you.
Suggested reading: On MLK’s radical vision: MLK’s radical vision got distorted: Here’s his real legacy on militarism & inequality from Salon.com.
And in my head he is forever Martin Luther the King: