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MLK Events at Creighton Feature Panel Discussion with Local Politicians 1/10/19  01/10/19 10:08:27 AM Printer Friendly VersionPrinter Friendly Version

MLK Events at Creighton Feature Panel Discussion with Local Politicians
By Scott Stewart
The Daily Record

A trio of prominent African-American politicians will participate in a panel discussion at Creighton University later this month as part of celebrations remembering the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
Douglas County Board of Commissioners Chairman Chris Rodgers, Omaha City Council President Ben Gray and Nebraska State Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha will discuss “Advancing Community Issues Through Government Service” and answer questions from the audience at the Jan. 18 event.
Jamel Walker, a second-year law student and president of the Black Law Students Association, will moderate
the event. Walker said she will ask the panel how to make progress on public policy issues.
“They will be able to talk about the challenges and the opportunities that they see moving forward on issues that are important to all of us, but to the African-American community in particular,” Walker said. “It affects everyone, so anyone can come out. Government is something that controls and regulates, so there is information
for everyone.”
Rodgers said he plans to discuss issues in the context of Martin Luther King Jr. and how black elected officials affect King’s policy agenda in different areas of the United States.
“We still have a long way to go to get where Dr. King wanted to get to,” Rodgers said.
As a public official, Rodgers said he finds himself reframing issues that affect people of color through the lens of poverty, or discussing disparity based on census tracts and ZIP codes, on topics like health care, education, housing and voting rights.
“The wrong person will try to exploit the race issue out of it,” Rodgers said. “You don’t have to avoid color when talking about the issue. But when you really have to make the rubber hit the road and affect the policy change that’s at the root of it, that’s when (the shift in framing) is there.”
For Gray, modern American society would be a disappointment to King and his legacy.
“While he would be upset with what government is doing and what the Trump administration is doing, he would probably be a lot more upset that there are black people who will not vote,” Gray said. “The No. 1 tool that will change the system is the vote – for better or worse.”
Gray said he plans to bring up the importance of voting as much as possible in his remarks.
“I would hope that people would come for the discussion,” Gray said. “I would also hope that they would come with their minds open.”
The panel discussion will be held Friday, Jan. 18, at Creighton University’s Ahmanson Law Center, 2133 Cass St., in Room 124 from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. A reception will follow the commons area. RSVP online by Monday, Jan. 14, at alumni.creighton.edu/MLKPanel2019. The panel is open to everyone, Walker said.
The event is part of a week-long celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. at Creighton University coinciding with the MLK Day federal holiday on Jan. 21. Creighton’s “Freedom & Famine” events start Friday, Jan. 18, with a cake and choir event at 11:30 a.m. at the V.J. and Angela Skutt Student Center.
A unity service will be held Sunday, Jan. 20, at 6 p.m. at Salem Baptist Church, 3131 Lake St. A Martin Luther King Luncheon is scheduled Monday, Jan. 21, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Hilton Omaha, 1001 Cass St., which features civil rights activist Diane Nash. Tickets for the luncheon are $50 per person in advance or $55 the day of the event. Call 402-341-4297 for more information on that event.
Nash, who was involved in the Freedom Riders and Selma Voting Rights Movement, will also speak at a free event at the Mike and Josie Harper Center in the Hixson-Lied Auditorium at 3 p.m. Register online at creighton.edu/mlk where you can find more information on Creighton’s MLK Celebration Week events.
Rodgers and Gray both said the conversation at the upcoming panel is timely, as worries about going back to an earlier time in race relations are front of mind and as the national political environment shifted with the election of the United States’ first black president.
“These things are still continuous fights that need to be made,” Rodgers said. “If you think that we’ve arrived because you’d had a black president or there’s people of color in select positions, that’s a disillusion of what is really is going on underneath it.”
Institutional racism is alive and well at the national level, Gray say, citing the rise of the tea party wing of the Republican Party and its decision to not negotiate with Obama on any topic.
“That should have been clarion call to everybody that, wait a minute, we’re heading backwards here,” Gray said. “You have seen examples of that across the country where whites feel like they can say anything or do anything to people of color or women and feel like they can get away with it because of this (man) in the White House.”
That attitude trickles down into state and local politics, Gray said. As a black elected official, he said he’s been falsely accused of grift with no proof by a white community member.
“Black people are very familiar with that sort of thing, all the way back to Willie Brown, when he was lynched on the courthouse steps,” Gray said. “All a white man had to do was say that he did something wrong. There was no evidence. There was no facts or anything like that. All a white man had to do was say it.
“And in this country now, there are pockets of people around this country that feel that they can say anything they want.”
Walker, the event moderator, said she hopes the panel’s audience includes lawyers, law students and others who are interested in government and want insight into the challenges facing the community. She said she hopes the audience helps shape the direction of the discussion, too.
“They are more than welcome to ask questions,” Walker said. “At the very least, it is an opportunity to get in front of and ask questions and listen to some of the leaders in our government that (audience members) may not otherwise have a chance to speak with.”
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