St. Mary’s had the privilege of hosting Reverend Heber Brown on October 3 for a dialogue with members of the student body. Reverend Brown was clear to make the distinction between a dialogue and presentation, sharing with the audience that his goal in speaking at St. Mary’s was not to present a pre-packaged sermon, but rather to foster the spirit of debate in the student body. The Reverend opened the talk with a moving analysis of the Black Lives Matter movement, stressing that it is not just an anomaly that will merit nothing more than a brief mention in the history books; it is the contemporary activist movement that gives voice to suffering accrued from the past several centuries.
Reverend Brown is an active participant in his home community of Baltimore where he has served at Pleasant Hope Baptist Church for over eight years. Despite the strong religious background of the Reverend, his visit was not an attempt to indoctrinate listeners with a strong dose of ethos, his speech was a call for the practical.
A focus on the misrepresentation of Civil Rights leaders brought the element of perspective into discussion. When asked about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the typical American college student will quickly conjure up in image of the peaceful march on Washington in the summer of 1963, or the words “we shall overcome”; however, contrary to this “defanged” image that is thought to embody the Civil Rights leader, at the height of his popularity he had an approval rating of 34%. As Reverend Brown candidly shared with his audience, students are taught to classify Martin Luther King as a fatherly leader and individuals like Malcolm X as far too radical.
Yet, a blind reading of Dr. King’s final speeches before his assassination in 1968 would lead an uneducated audience to believe the most radical of Civil Rights members penned the text. Dr. King called for a boycott of corporations like Coca Cola and Wonder Bread, stating the necessity for funds to be injected into the black community. He uttered the words “a riot is the language of the unheard.” And many, Reverend Brown included, believe he would be at the forefront of the social movement being witnessed today.
The Reverend expressed feeling refreshed due to the breadth of leaders in the contemporary movement. Stating that too often we focus on “messianic male leaders,” Brown cited the actions taken to ban female Civil Rights activists from speaking at the iconic march on Washington. The force and passion behind Reverend Brown’s talk cannot be overstated. The energy he brought to the room kept the audience captivated as a wealth of information, and the names of civil rights activists like Dr. Dorothy Height, Gloria Richardson, H. Rat Brown, were incorporated into the discussion.
The work Reverend Brown spearheads in his community takes on a range of issues, including shutting down a multi-million dollar prison project in Baltimore that underscored the monetary incentive to incarcerate black youths, while the need for renovation and innovation in public schools goes grossly neglected. In a time when change seems to be too distant, and minorities grow tired of understanding, tired of waiting, and the memories of Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Oscar Grant, Philando Castile, Eric Garner and many others remain etched into the hearts of the black community, every individual must be a leader, an embodiment of a community’s need for substantive change.