In King's Honor: Task Force on Diversity posts panel discussion online

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., center, speaks to a wildly cheering crowd of African American supporters, Jan. 2, 1965, Selma, Ala. King was calling for a new African American voter registration drive throughout Alabama and promising to "march on the ballot boxes" unless African American are given the right to vote. 

The Morristown Task Force on Diversity posted a panel discussion that centered on several topics related to civil rights, the direction of race locally and nationally and the impact of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“We are remembering his sacrifice in educating the community,” said Roxanne Bowen, moderator of the discussion.

The discussion was posted Monday by the task force on MLK Day.

Five people made up the panel discussion, including Bowen, a counselor at Walters State Community College and board member of the Morristown Task Force on Diversity.

The panel included the Rev. Johnny Jones, president of Men of Vision and pastor of Toney Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, Christy Cowan, psychology professor at Western Governor’s University and chairwoman of the Hamblen County Democrat Party, Keisha Monroe, vice president of the Hamblen County NAACP, Brandon Moore, chairman of MOV and a local educator and William Isom II, director of Black in Appalachia.

The 40-minute discussion revolved around questions such as what were the most important lessons of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., where are we right now with civil rights and what does the future hold?

The panelists said Martin Luther King Jr. taught such ideas as unity, perseverance, collaboration and fighting for a cause.

Jones said he showed the power of equality.

“I feel he was a beacon of love and light,” he said.

Cowan said he showed how one person can change lives and how change can happen by saying steadfast and serving the community.

“The fight for progress never ends,” she said. “I know it feels we take one step forward two steps back. It lets us know we have to continue.”

Monroe said personally she knew of people who stood up for civil rights over the summer as Black Lives Matter protests over swept the nation. But, she said she also knew that some questioned what exactly the fight was about.

“We need to invest in ourselves, educate ourselves and know what we are fighting for,” she said.

The panel discussed where civil right stands at this time. Some panelists said it could be looked at in the lens of nationally and locally.

“The issues we have nationally aren’t the ones we have locally,” Jones said.

He said he questions how people of color fare to those national statistics being bandied about. He said he wonders how much there is a wealth gap in Hamblen County between groups.

He also pointed out that while some people may be the same color that doesn’t automatically mean they think the same. Isom said he has seen progress in civil rights to some extent. He said he knows he won’t have to go vote and get assaulted for doing so. He said his kids can go to any school they want.

“We’ve achieved the window dressings of Democracy,” he said.

But, he said he believes there still is an economic disparity between people of color and others.

Cowan said legislation continues to be fluid. While legislation passed in 1965 and decisions like the Supreme Court ruling allowing same-sex marriage exist, every day, there are still bills brought by legislators that chip away at those rights.

She said many times people don’t realize it until it’s too late.

“Then we’re fighting backwards,” she said.

Panelists also discussed the issue of race locally and spoke several minutes about government.

Isom said that 50% of the population of Hamblen County is female, 15% is of Morristown is people of color and eight percent of the county as a whole is people of color.

But, yet, local government doesn’t show that.

“Our County Commission and City Council don’t reflect Morristown,” Isom said. “If you go to Walmart, that’s not what our city looks like.”

He said more people of color need to run for office and if they are elected would be good role models for children who can look up at them and see the same as them.

The panel said there’s also need for more people of color than just in politics. It also can relate to business.

Moore said he would like to see more people of color who work in professional fields to practice in Morristown. He said he would like to see more doctors or lawyers who are Black or Latino.

He also said he still struggles himself with one issue. He said he has friends who make the same money as him and have the same job status as him. But, they have one advantage – historical resources. They have families who have built up wealth or have land handed down over generations.

But, he said he also sees hope in the future as many people of color start to accumulate the same resources that can be handed down to their children and grandchildren.

Ultimately, he said there needs to be an opportunity for people of color to sit at the same table.

“As far as legislation is concerned, we’ve come a long way since Dr. Martin Luther King’s time,” he said. “The biggest issue we face now is love.”