As the nation looks to celebrate the life and times of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, his dream of equality and peace continues to be an ongoing battle for Black communities. With a growing rate of police brutality, unjust and inhumane treatment and medical neglect, African Americans, while making several advancements, still have a long road ahead to obtain equal human rights.
Community leaders across the city are continuing the fight for Black and Brown populations. Maintaining the dream of King, these leaders are making an impact in their own way while keeping lessons of the past in the forefront.
Nakia-Renne Wallace, co-founder of Detroit Will Breathe, uses her platform and knowledge of the city to lead her community on issues of police brutality, social justice and systematic racism. A catalyst in Detroit, Wallace believes that to effect meaningful change, one must provoke it.
“The point of protest is to be disruptive. If you are marching through downtown Detroit in the middle of the workday, if you are holding a rally outside of a city or county building, or you are calling into city council Zoom meetings, that’s not a peaceful action and it’s not meant to be,” Wallace says.
For the Detroit native, the city has long played an instrumental role in the resurgence of Black and Brown communities.
“Detroit has a really strong foundation in the Black radical tradition and Detroit has always been a pivotal place and a pivotal battleground in the fight for Black liberation and in the fight towards equality,” Wallace says. “What we see now is not necessarily a new phenomenon in terms of Detroit. In fact, if we were to look at the history of activism in the city, it actually makes perfect sense the role that we’ve taken on this summer and last year.”
In progressing, the importance of fact-based conversation around the Civil Rights icon is key in leading the Black community to current day civil rights resolutions. For Wallace, creating a system of equal rights, sustainability and adequate resources for people of color is how she is continuing the fight.
“Housing, food, water and healthcare are human rights; that’s what we envision. We envision a world where people have the right to live and be treated as human beings,” Wallace says. “We envision a world where the state does not have the power to not only murder you but to starve your community of resources and that be okay.”
Community visionary for FORCE Detroit, James “Screal” Eberheart Jr, is taking a different approach to achieving Dr. King’s dream. An organization that focuses on criminal justice reform, community and police accountability, as well as human trafficking, FORCE Detroit also leads the community in narrative building as well as youth and millennial organizing.
Also affiliated with Own Your Story and New Era Detroit, the community activist uses an approach like Dr. King’s to address the needs of the people.
“I never was taught to hate so that’s where I embody King’s vision because he led with love and peace,” Eberheart says. “I take that and use his principles.”
Mental health and its impact on the community is a cause near and dear to Eberheart. Educating neighborhoods on the effects of racism on mental health, he left a career in corporate America to dive back into activism.
“The reason why I started off doing what I’m doing in the community is because of mental health. That’s the main thing,” Eberheart says. “Racism is a mental aspect, it’s a mental health aspect.”