By KAITLYN NAPLES
Even though it has been nearly 45 years since Martin Luther King Jr., the Black-American Civil Rights Movement leader, was assassinated, there are still practices of racism, judgement, discrimination, and prejudice in society today.
Last Monday, the same day the second inauguration of the country’s first African-American president was held, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Bristol branch of the NAACP held its yearly breakfast to honor the former Baptist minister, activist, and leader of the Black-American civil rights movement.
“We are trying to move forward together,” Stephen Balkaran, a political science instructor at Quinnipiac University and guest speaker at last week’s event, said. “I wonder if Martin Luther King Jr. was alive today, what he’d have to say.”
Balkaran, who has penned two books, and is working on his third, and has written over 35 articles on American foreign policy, race relations and public policy, has been a professor of African-American studies at Central Connecticut State University, and was coordinator of the Civil Rights Project. He has performed research at both Harvard and Yale universities, and has held faculty positions at The University of Connecticut-Waterbury, Post University and Capital Community College.
His third book was the inspiration for his speech last week, which revolved around “moving forward together,” something King preached about as well.
“He chose to march for the underprivileged,” Balkaran said, adding that King could have been anything, especially since he received a Ph. D., or doctorate of philosophy degree. “He was trying to move his country forward; is there a dream of reaching a post racial society?”
Balkaran said racism is still “a significant factor today, as it was in the past,” and cited surveys that show racism has not diminished even after electing an Black American president. “Race is still an important element of our society.”
Balkaran said race is largely connected to issues like health care, poverty, education and the criminal justice system. He said, in 2008, 44 percent of the inmates in Connecticut were black, while 11 percent of the state of Connecticut was black.
“Can we ever move forward together?” Balkaran asked the group on last Monday.
The Bristol branch of the NAACP has a new leader, J. Yvette Tucker, who said last Monday “in the spirit of moving forward together, let’s look at people with a little more than just face value.” She said smiling, nodding or waving to others are the small acts that can spark unity in our society.
Tucker is a long-time Bristol resident, and an assistant director of admissions at Naugatuck Valley Community College in Waterbury.
Martin Luther King Jr., born on Jan. 15, 1929, was most known for his “I Have a Dream” speech and his vision of a “colorblind society.” At the age of 39, King was assassinated on April 4, 1968 by James Earl Ray, which silenced his advocacy forever. Even though he is not able to continue to fight for equal rights, those who attended the event last Monday morning were able to see that there are others who are fulfilling King’s dream, and fighting to make a difference.