NAACP President calls for justice, unity at MLK Luncheon

Middle Passage didn’t make it.

The 68-year-old Vietnam War veteran who marched from Selma, Alabama to Washington D.C. as part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s “America’s Journey for Justice” back in August of 2015 died just short of the nation’s capital as he was marching outside of the town of Spotsylvania, Virginia.

Passage, who carried the American flag for the entire 920-mile journey, was marching for stronger voting rights in America.

“My hardest day at the NAACP was telling a group of students that Middle died, but the hardest question I’ve ever been asked at the NAACP was, by those same students, ‘If a man was willing to die for the right to vote, why can’t we fight for the right to vote?’” President and CEO of the NAACP Cornell Brooks said.

Brooks was the keynote speaker at Monday’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Luncheon in Carter Hall.

The luncheon, sponsored by the Multicultural Center and the university Foundation, brought together university students and faculty as well as community members to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. day.

“We believe, like Martin, that there is a moral order to the universe,” Brooks said. “That we as Americans can make things better, we as Americans can bring this country together.”

Brooks said three lessons can be discerned from King’s work. Intrinsic value, the idea that everyone has value, interdependence, the fact that people depend on one another and moral order, the way people distinguish right from wrong are the three lessons.

Brooks, who claimed the attention of nearly every eye and ear in the audience, also spoke on the increasing civil unrest across the country.

“We cannot have a society that denigrates anybody,” Brooks said. “We have to have a society that uplifts everybody.”

Brooks said he rejected much of the campaign of President-Elect Donald Trump, calling it “hate-filled.”

“If he tweets, we can tweet too,” he said. “We can tweet love, we can tweet justice, we can tweet on behalf of the republic to bring together the republic.”

The president of the Black Student Union, Clifton Jett sat next to Brooks during the luncheon.

“I knew that the luncheon was going to be a big deal, but I didn’t know how big of a deal it was going to be until I came face-to-face with Mr. Cornell William Brooks, along with the mayor of Evansville and others,” he said.

The freshman theatre major said it was his first time attending the event and thought that it was well-prepared.

“We have some really special guests today with us and I just know that a lot of the audience members will take something from Dr. Cornell William Brooks speech,” he said.

Jett said he spoke to Brooks prior to the luncheon and they discussed how Brooks being the president and CEO of the NAACP compares to Jett as president of the Black Student Union. He said they also discussed leadership within their community.

“History repeats itself and Martin Luther King made history and I would love to see his history repeat itself,” Jett said. “Everything that he did will forever live on.”

Jett said he is hoping to see more African-American students attend the university and believes events like the MLK luncheon will do just that.

“That is what I wished for and that is what’s happened,” he said. “Every day I see more and more African-American students on USI’s campus and now we just have to focus on increasing that graduation rate.”