I AM 2018 conference opens in Memphis 50 years after King
Screen shot from video of "I’ve Been to the Mountaintop" by Martin Luther King, the day before he was assasinated.

MEMPHIS – It’s been 50 years since the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered, and today the struggle for racial equality and social justice continues. The renowned civil rights leader is being honored with a commemoration here, April 2-4, at the Church of God in Christ. Opening today and continuing tomorrow there is first a conference with seminars and panels and later this week a march and a motivational celebration of Dr. King’s historic “I have been to the mountaintop” speech given the night before he was killed. People’s World reporters are here today in the very building where Dr. King delivered those famous remarks.

The I AM 2018 conference that opened today is providing an analysis of King’s legacy and what it means for modern day struggles for social, economic, and racial justice, as well as how it relates to issues that continue to beleaguer people of color and so many other working-class people. Speakers are examining how best to effect positive change and we will be getting you the first reports and stories on these things later today.

“If something isn’t done, and done in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed.” These words, excerpted from Dr. King’s speech, are as true today as they were then. But what also continues to ring true is the sense of hope King conveyed, when he concluded his eerily prophetic remarks by stating, “I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” The next day, James Earl Ray fatally shot him with a long-range rifle at the Lorraine Motel. The building is now a memorial museum, and those who are here at this year’s I AM 2018 event will participate in a march and wreath-laying at this historic site. People’s World will take you to those events too.

Even as attendees honor the past, they are looking also to the future. A large part of the event today will entail training youth in activism for economic justice and political power. According to an official release from the event, “During the first week of April, faith, civil rights, and labor leaders from AFSCME, COGIC, and other civic organizations will help train hundreds of I AM 2018 Dream Corps activists to kick off a new nationwide voter education and civic engagement program. At a Youth Town Hall, attending activists and leaders at the forefront of fights for economic and racial justice will discuss issues concerning urban youth and make plans for November and elections in the future.

“Alongside these trainings, prominent journalists, academics, community leaders, and subject experts are joining the a Mountaintop Conference today to be part of panels on criminal justice reform, minority youth education, the future of American workers and the intersection of labor, faith, and civil rights. Panels today and tomorrow will be led by Andrew Jackson Young Jr., Rev. James Lawson, AFT President Randi Weingarten, labor leader Bill Lucy and AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Elissa McBride, among many others.”

Also on their way here to the conference are surviving Memphis sanitation workers who so famously demanded better pay and working conditions, after African-American trash collectors Echol Cole and Robert Walker were crushed to death by a mal-functioning compactor in 1968. Sanitation workers in Memphis regularly rode in the opening of the compactors whenever it rained – it was the only way they could keep dry.

The remaining workers, launching what is perhaps the most memorable strike in U.S. history, walked off the job and marched downtown draped in sandwich boards that read, “I Am A Man.” The workers, who received the fierce support of Dr. King, and their poignant declaration is now the namesake of this 2018 Memphis event.

Other speakers and participants today and tomorrow include Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, AFSCME President Lee Saunders, civil rights leader Andrew Young (a former Atlanta mayor and congressman), actor and labor activist Danny Glover, Martin Luther King Jr. III, and rapper Common. A separate but related event later in the week called “MLK50: Gospel Reflections from the Mountaintop” will be held at the Memphis Convention Center and be headlined by Rev. William Barber, leader of the famous Moral Monday movement in North Carolina.

This conference is an historic one and 50 years later, the words of King’s mountaintop speech continue to underscore the need for action: In his words: “Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through.”


CONTRIBUTOR

Blake Skylar
Blake Skylar

Blake is production manager, responsible for the daily assembly of the PW home page. As a writer, he has earned awards from the IWPA and ILCA, and his articles have also appeared in publications such as Workday Minnesota, EcoWatch, and Earth First News. He has covered issues including the 2010 BP oil spill in New Orleans and the 2015 U.N. Climate Conference in Paris.

He lives in Illinois and frequently visits his home state of New Jersey. He likes cats, red wine, books, music, and nature. In his spare time, he is writing a novel and working on art. Using the pen name "Blake X," he writes a blog that can be found at blakedeppe.com.

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