Education along with economic and housing development were hot issues at the forefront of Martin Luther King Jr. Day events hosted by the Association of Interfaith Ministers and the NAACP Nashville branch.
“We can’t just be the now and the then. We have to realize that we’re on a continuum because the issues we had then, we still have now.” said Sonnye Dixon, pastor at Hobson United Methodist Church , to the NAACP panel. “Civil Rights: Yesterday and Today.” Dixon previously served as president of the local NAACP.
Co-panelists at the NAACP event, the organization’s first ever for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Monday afternoon and speakers at the 33rd Annual Interfaith Ministers’ Community MLK Day Celebration in the morning sent similar messages.
“We must work with the caveat that the arc of the moral universe does not bend by itself. We must work together, pray together, walk together, stand in solidarity, and always refuse injustice together,” he said. said Ilyasah Shabbazz, award-winning author and daughter of Malcolm X, at the convening of the Interfaith Fellowship of Ministers.
Shabbazz’s keynote address at the convocation was preceded by comments and readings from Forrest Harris Sr., president of American Baptist College, Vann Newkirk Sr., president of Fisk University, Cheryl Mayes, president of the Nashville’s 2022 MLK Day committee, and Aaron Marble, pastor of Jefferson Street Baptist Church, who hosted the event which was streamed virtually for the public.
Shabazz called for legislative efforts to restrict how educators teach students about racism. “The truth of America and its history must be taught to our students and to all schools and at all levels. This is only part of our path forward,” Shabazz said. “There is no American history unless every voice is heard on the pages of these textbooks.”
After the call, the Nashville MLK Day Youth Committee held a book drive at the Jefferson Street Baptist Church.
Jefferson Street was discussed in the NAACP panel later in the day during conversations about economic development in North Nashville, a predominantly black area. Michael Grant, former president of the local branch of the NAACP, and Stephen Handy, pastor of the McKendree United Methodist Church, spoke about past and recent efforts to secure contracts for black-owned development companies to work on projects in North Nashville.
If black-owned businesses developed the area, it would be protected from the disproportionate impact of gentrification on communities of color, Grant said. Grant and Handy led an ad hoc NAACP committee for economic development in 2010.
Attorney Walter Searcy and Pastor Enoch Fuzz joined Dixon, Grant and Handy in the portion of the panel featuring historic civil rights leaders and was moderated by Sen. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville.
Grant and Handy both acknowledged they weren’t able to accomplish as much as they hoped, but “we were able to move the needle,” Handy said.
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That work remains just as important, especially given the development boom in Nashville, Handy said.
“Economic development around co-ops is something that Michael and I understood with Jefferson Street at the time,” Handy said. “Now we really need to move forward with the direction of economic development around cooperatives.”
Christina Barclay, a local realtor, called Handy’s point “excellent” during the second half of the NAACP event, “Civil Rights: Now.” Barclay said the dwindling availability of affordable housing in Nashville is pushing black residents out of town.
That’s why, Barclay said, “you can get together with someone from your same demographic and start buying property together.”
Alongside Barclay, the other panelists were Jessica Williams, Jamel Campbell-Gooch, Angel Stansberry and Timothy Hughes, and John Little as moderator.
Liam Adams covers religion for The Tennessean. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @liamsadams.