Capitol Hill Forum Examines Global Lessons of Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Role

Eric Olsen
August 30, 2013

Ugandan Parliamentarian Peter Emmanuel Eriaku speaks to a forum on Capitol Hill.

Examining the international leadership model of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ugandan Parliamentarian Peter Emmanuel Eriaku asked young leaders at forum at the U.S. Capitol, “Was Dr. King a civil rights advocate or was he a prophet? Was he speaking just for America or for the whole human race?

Mr. Eriaku was addressing the International Young Leaders Assembly forum, “The Role of Young Leaders in Achieving Dr. King’s Dream Globally.” On the day preceding the 50th anniversary Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial, the Ugandan lawmaker asked how many had read King’s speech? “Before we think of making a contribution to his vision globally, it is important that we read and understand the speech,” he said.

“Dr. King says the Emancipation Proclamation was a beacon of light for Negro slaves. And I ask myself, who is a Negro? Is that just a black man in America, or in Africa? Or is it anyone in the world who is living under oppression? Who is the slave? Just the black man working in a sugar plantation, or anyone anywhere suffering oppression?”

From top: Amy Lazarus, executive director of International Institute for Sustained Dialogue; John W. Franklin, Senior Manager, Office of External Affairs, National Museum of African American History and Culture; and Jason Washington, a former White House Fellow for the Leadership Development, at the Capitol Hill forum.

Paraphrasing Dr. King, Mr. Eriaku said that “in the process of getting our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrong deeds. Counter physical force with soul force.”

The Capitol Hill Forum was part of a nine-day International Young Leaders Assembly, with programs in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, and was co-hosted by the International Institute for Sustained Dialogue.

Other panelists looked to their personal experience for perspective on Dr. King’s legacy. “I marched in Wilson, North Carolina, as tenth-grader,” remembered Alan Inman, President of Global Peace Foundation USA. Reflecting on Dr. King’s example, Mr. Inman told the young participants that there is a difference between a manager and a leader–“good managers do things right; leaders do the right things.”

Quoting Dr. King, Mr. Inman said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Change has to be championed, he observed. “Good things will not happen unless you make it happen.”

Panelist Amy Lazarus, executive director of International Institute for Sustained Dialogue, talked about the role of Rosa Parks to international participants. “Rosa Parks was a very quiet women, shy, but with great fortitude,” she said. “She was able to launch the bus boycott because of her partnership with Dr. King, who few people would describe as shy. Although they were very different, they were able to partner to advance change in America.” Who are your unlikely allies? she asked.

Ms. Lazarus added that courage is an essential facet of social change and, quoting poet Maya Angelou, said, “Courage is a muscle that takes time to develop.” Working with others on a common cause is a means to build the courage needed for change, she said.

John W. Franklin, Senior Manager, Office of External Affairs, National Museum of African American History and Culture, discussed the significant roles of museums to start conversations between generations. He described the reality of segregation that he recalled as a youth in Washington and the value of bringing the past to life for the present generation.

“For those of us who work in the Museum world the challenge is how make the twentieth century come alive for people not born in it,” he said. He described one approach in which adults who grew up prior to the landmark desegregation ruling Brown v Board of Education (1954) were asked to talk about their life and experience. Then youth were asked to speak to the older generation about their experience.

“Through these kinds of conversations [across generations] I think we get close,” he said. “You are from different nations. I encourage you to talk to each other, learn from each other and continue to do so when you return. In doing so you can take the lessons of the civil rights movement to an international level. Indeed the civil rights movement in the U.S. inspired many movements for human rights around the world.”

A collage of pictures of people sitting in a room.

Participants at the International Young Leaders Assembly forum on Capitol Hill.

Jason Washington, a former White House Fellow for Leadership Development, described some of the challenges in his early life. He had speech impediment as a child and couldn’t talk more than a few sentences, he said. In college he was identified as “at risk,” but with the help of others he went on to graduate with honors at Morehouse College. “Realizing I had more to give I became a teacher and became passionate about education and helped found a charter school in New York City.”

Likening his experience to the civil rights movement he said there were many opportunities to be frustrated and turn back. “You must stay balanced and focused on why you are doing the things you are doing,” he noted. Through these difficulties greater insight can develop and more meaningful change can be realized.

The International Young Leaders Assembly also hosted a forum on U.S.-China relations later in the day that drew spirited presentations from U.S. and Chinese participants. Speakers called for mutual respect and shared endeavors between the two nations to address conflict and underdevelopment in the world. The stark differences in historic experience can be a source of progress and peace when transcended through recognition of values and experience that are shared among all peoples, participants affirmed.

IYLA participants in front of Capitol Hill.


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