Marcus Green told a crowd gathered to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. at Mt. Zion Baptist Church that while our nation has made progress because of King, in many ways, racism has become increasingly hidden yet pervasive.
“I want to talk about our inability to view racism through the sophisticated form that it has taken. It is now a very structural institutionalized systemic thing. You have to name and identify something before you can tackle it,” said Green.
Green, executive director of the South Seattle Emerald, was the keynote at the 43rd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration on Friday. Other speakers included Gov. Jay Inslee, Congressman Adam Smith and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.
Green reminded the crowd of the numerous black people killed by law enforcement in 2015, and the countless unnamed that suffer many of the same consequences simply because of the color of their skin.
“All lives matter” is problematic in today’s context, Green said.
“When all groups that have been discriminated against … have been malnourished for so long, pleading to feed on America’s promises, that race is not insisting that others sitting around the dinner table should starve. They are just asking to eat like everyone else,” he said.
As Green took the stage for his keynote, the crowd became an interactive space of applause and shouts of agreement and encouragement.
The solution, said Green, is love. To overcome the barriers of racism in this country we must love one another in a way that allows us to see the capabilities and the possibilities in those different from yourself, he said.
Green reminded the audience that, “this world in its present state is constructed by no laws of nature. It is built on the foundations of beliefs, doctrines and ideas of people, kept in place by fear, apathy and resignation.”
“It can only be undone by the new ideas imagination and beliefs of other people,” he said.
Other public officials also discussed those systemic issues.
Mayor Ed Murray pointed out that, “acknowledging that we have made some progress does not mean that we are naive about the challenges we face ahead of us.”
Murray focused his speech on the income inequality facing black people in the city and outlines plans such as the youth employment initiative, summer youth jobs, pre-school programs, affordable housing units and the police reform.
“And let me be clear,” Murray included, “in Seattle, Black Lives Matter.”
Inslee spoke of local issues such as increasing the number of municipal contracts being focused toward African American contractors and showed his support of the push toward increasing the statewide minimum wage.
Between speakers, fifth grade students from the John Stanford International School read their poetry in English, Japanese and Spanish. One fifth grader’s poem touched on the police shooting death of a 12-year-old: “Tamir Rice was killed simply because he was black.”
The elementary school students who filled the top pews of the church reminded all those in attendance even young people have to be aware of society’s most pressing issues and that they believe there is a long way to go toward equality.
Green reminded the crowd of the balancing act of celebrating the legacy of all those who fought for equality and justice in the Civil Rights Movement, while recognizing that people still need to step up and march forward.
Green said each one of us has a choice of which world we want to live in.
“We can live in the world we are born into, or we can live in the world as it can be, but we cannot live in both,” he said.
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected. The event was the 43rd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration.