Chavis: Racism still exists

Chavis: Racism still exists
January 21
00:00 2016
Photo by Tevin Stinson
Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis delivers the keynote address during the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Breakfast Forum at the M.C. Benton Convention Center on Monday, Jan. 18

By Donna Rogers

The Chronicle

Winston-Salem has come a long way regarding race relations, and appears to be headed in the right direction, a prominent civil rights worker and native of Oxford, N.C., told 1,200 people on Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

At the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Breakfast Forum at the M.C. Benton Convention Center downtown, Dr. Benjamin Chavis spoke about how he dined in downtown Winston-Salem on Sunday.

“Once upon a time, you could not find us in downtown Winston-Salem,” he said.

The forum was sponsored by The Chronicle and The Ministers’ Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity.

Chavis worked in the Civil Rights Movement with King as a young man.

“Racism, America’s Berlin Wall?” was asked at the Breakfast Forum last year. The question remained the theme for the 2016 breakfast.

Various leaders answered the question, telling what their organizations and agencies are doing to try to tear down the wall of racism in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County.  (See The Chronicle’s 2016 MLK Jr. Holiday special section for details.)

Chavis said the Berlin Wall is a mindset.

“If you really want to know how someone feels about you, you have to see how they think about you.”

While Chavis, an ordained minister, marveled at the diversity of the audience and the steps various leaders said they are taking to rid Winston-Salem of its ills, he said there are two North Carolinas, “one looking forward and one running backward.”

He said North Carolina is headed in the wrong direction. For instance, race still plays an important part in deciding funding for schools; school have been resegregated.

Also, North Carolina has restricted voting rights through a 2013 law. Chavis urged the audience to support the N.C. NAACP and the Moral Monday movement in the fight to regain voting rights and spur voter registration.

The N.C. NAACP and others have sued the state of North Carolina over the 2013 law that requires registered voters to show a government-issued identification card before they can vote. This part of the lawsuit is scheduled to be heard Monday, Jan. 25. The N.C. General Assembly passed an amendment to the law this summer that provides a way people can vote without the required ID. The N.C. NAACP sought to defer the Jan. 25 hearing until after the March 15 primary elections but a federal judge denied an injunction in the case.

“If you want to celebrate and participate in keeping Dr. King’s dream alive, you ought to support the N.C. NAACP and its Moral Monday Movement,” Chavis said.

“The 2016 election ought to have the largest turnout in American history. We owe it to Dr. King, we owe it to Rosa Parks” and other stalwarts of the Civil Rights Movement.

Chavis said there are two Americas, one with President Obama at the head and the other against him. He said black Americans must continue on the battlefield through it all.

Chavis said Dr. King would not be pessimistic today.

“He would be optimistic because more and more people in the United States want justice, want freedom, want equality.”

Chavis said he is optimistic about the future.

“The reason I’m optimistic is because I see young people going back to the front lines” with the Black Lives Matter movement. He said King would support that movement, and he said he is proud of it.

Young people today need “the proper encouragement” to do their best, Chavis said.

“It’s our responsibility to raise up a new generation of freedom fighters,” he said.

Chavis, who once was executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), is now president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, president of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a trade organization of 206 black-owned newspapers. The Chronicle is a member of that organization.

Chavis said the NNPA-member newspapers have a duty.

“It’s about doing what we think and know what’s right for all of God’s people,” he said.

Chronicle Publisher Emeritus Ernie Pitt spoke about Winston-Salem and The Chronicle.

He said that he has had a “crazy notion” Winston-Salem can be a model city in the United States.

“We have an obligation to make this city better and I believe we can,” he said. However, “economic reciprocity” is needed to support the newspaper.

“We keep on pushing because we believe our city and this county needs someone to tell the truth about what’s happening,” Pitt said.

Chavis said it appears Winston-Salem is part of the North Carolina that wants to move forward.

“That’s the North Carolina that we all should be striving for,” he said.

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Donna Rogers

Donna Rogers

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