In August 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed the 11th Annual Student Christian Leadership Congress (SCLC) in Atlanta, Georgia before over 100 Black leaders. In his address, he asked the question, “Where Do we Go From Here?”. He eloquently talked about the major accomplishments and tasks ahead for SCLC. Dr. King urged Black leaders to organize and register voters in order to elect individuals who would address Black Americans’ social, political and economic issues.
Blacks were grappling with a myriad of social injustices within America’s segregated society. Some of these injustices included not being able to sit at lunch counters at downtown restaurants, not be able to stay at motels on the highways and hotels in the cities, not being able to enjoy the fresh air of the big city parks, not being able to use public libraries, attending poorly funded segregated schools, not having a single Black serving in the legislature in the South and many more inequalities that other races didn’t have to endure. Most of all, not being able to vote without facing barriers.
As a result of these inequities, King urged SCLC to engage in intense and active non-violent voter registration campaigns centered around the principle of love. King’s basic philosophy centered on the principle of love. One of the most effective strategies to address the evils in our society that we are experiencing with the recent riots in D.C., George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Blacks who have been killed by the police is not by engaging in mob action and violence but by following the principle of love. All of these examples are hate motivated action. King would stress that non-violent protests are key to bringing about positive change.
During his speech, King also recognized that Blacks still had half the income of whites, have twice the unemployment rate as whites, the highest rate of infant mortality, were enrolled in segregated schools and suffered many other inequalities. Although King made this speech over 54 years ago, Blacks are still facing many of these same inequalities in 2021. With the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus passing its massive legislative agenda in Springfield this week addressing education, social, economic and criminal justice reform and with the election of the first Black Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives being elected, the Honorable Emanuel “Chris” Welch, maybe there is still hope to address the inequalities that we face that Dr. King spoke about in 1967. If King was alive today, he would be appalled that Black America is still grappling with these same issues. Maybe we are ready to get it right this time and reaffirm a commitment to love and nonviolence, as Dr. King would have done.
As Dr. King said in his 1967 address, “This is a time for action. What is needed is a strategy for change, a tactical program that will bring the Negro into the mainstream of America’s life as quickly as possible. So far, this has only been offered by the nonviolence movement. Without recognizing this, we will end up with solutions that don’t solve, answers that don’t answer, and explanations that don’t explain.”
So, let’s do it Dr. King’s way and make a commitment to get it right!
Dr. Erma Brooks Williams is a proud graduate of UIS. She has over 40 years experience working around the Illinois legislature. In 1979, she was the first Black female to be hired as a Supervisor of the Senate Democratic Pages. Later, she served on the Illinois House of Representatives Budget staff. She went on to serve on U.S. Congressmen Harold Washington and Charles A. Hayes congressional staffs, as an education specialist. She, later, was hired by the University of Illinois at Chicago on the governmental affairs staff. Dr. Williams went on to serve at Chicago State University as the Assistant Vice President for Board and Governmental Affairs. Dr. Williams currently serves as Vice President for Paul L. Williams and Associates, a governmental affairs consulting firm, founded by her husband, attorney Paul L. Williams, who is a UIS/SSU graduate and former member of the Illinois House of Representatives.
She credits earning a degree from UIS/SSU for the many opportunities that have been presented to her throughout her career. Dr. Williams earned her Doctorate of Education and Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Roosevelt University and Bachelor’s of Arts Degree from UIS and Associate of Arts Degree from Lincoln Land Community College.