Journalist and activist Shaun King uses social media and his platform as the Senior Justice Writer at the New York Daily News to shine a light on stories of injustice and how communities are responding to our “deeply troubled times.”
As keynote speaker at Solid Ground’s recent Building Community Luncheon, King articulated a deeper theory about the “dip” in human progress evidenced by the increase in police killings and hate crimes over the past eight years.
“We live in deeply problematic times, and there is so much that causes us to be unsure about where we are as a nation,” King said, putting the current political climate in an historical context based on the work of Leopold von Ranke, a 19th-century German historian seen as the father of the study of history, according to King.
Von Ranke “wanted to see if he studied the trends of history, would it prove or disprove what people knew about how history unfolded?” He found that “people were making a key mistake. … Technology over time is getting better and better … but people were confusing the steady improvement of technology with the steady improvement of humanity.”
“Seattle is the tip of the spear, if you will, fighting back against a lot of ugly systems that are developing. … I am honored to be here with so many compassionate people.”
When we look at humanity over time, the history of a country or of a city, the technology improved consistently, but humanity was much more up and down.
“Sometimes human beings were amazing!” King said. “Von Ranke found pockets of human history where there was very little famine, very little war, no colonialism … pockets of human history where people were collaborative and cooperative. And then he would move forward 100 years later and it would seem is if human beings knew none of the lessons that people knew before them. They would get a little better and then they would crash. Humanity looked like a series of amazing peaks and tragic declines in the quality of life that people experienced.”
King examined the contradiction between the popular assumption that we are “peak humanity” juxtaposed with the realities of the transatlantic slave trade, the Holocaust, and the genocide in Rwanda, among other horrors of our history and our present day.
“This is how time unfolds. Technology gets better, but humanity does not. We do not steadily improve with our gadgets.”
“Last year, 102 fully unarmed Black men, women and children were shot and killed by American police,” he said. “1902 was the last year in this country that 102 African Americans were lynched. … There are nations in this world that have not killed a single person in a decade. … We live in the age of the deadliest hate crime in almost 90 years [the mass murder in Charleston]. If we are steadily getting better, how do we explain this?”
“This exists because we are in a dip, right now, in the quality of our humanity. … We see a dip in the quality of humanity when there is an innovation that disturbs the primary people in power. That is when these ugly dips happen,” King said, citing examples including the Civil War in response to the innovation of freeing of slaves, mass incarceration of black men in response to the innovation of the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Movement, and the eight-year rise of hate crimes in this country in response to the innovation of Barack Obama’s election. “We are living in the dip, the shadow of people who were very, very disturbed by that.”
With the Luncheon’s theme of Raise Your Voice, ultimately the question King posed to everyone in the room was this: “What will you do to help us get out of this? What role will you play? In living in this dip, we must ask ourselves, what do we do, how do we respond? In this dip that we are in, we will not accidentally find our way out of this, … we will have to find our own way out.
“We will have to do it together. It will have to cross every boundary, every political party, ethnicity, nationality, city and state. We will have to find our way out of this together. I hope to be doing it with you, and I know that Solid Ground will be there providing essential services for people no matter how low this dip gets.”
Watch Shaun’s complete presentation!
Raising her voice for beauty
Solid Ground resident Susan Russell preceded King’s keynote by telling the story of her own personal dip, when a hit-and-run driver rear-ended her, destroying her career as a cement mason and sending her on a 10-year struggle through homelessness. Russell’s moving story focused on the role Solid Ground’s transitional and permanent housing had on her overcoming the PTSD caused by her homelessness, and finding her voice as an artist and advocate working to shine a light on the beauty and commonality of all people, housed and unhoused. You can watch Susan’s story here; make sure you have the Kleenex ready!
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Thanks to attendees & sponsors!
The March 30, 2017 Luncheon drew 650 community leaders, activists and people impacted by poverty. We are grateful for the generous underwriting support of our sponsors, especially these lead sponsors:
COMMUNITY BUILDER SPONSORS
If you were unable to join us March 30, you can still make a gift to support Solid Ground’s work to end poverty and undo racism and other oppressions that are the root causes of poverty.Donate Now!