Jeff Johnson challenged a group of students, faculty, staff, and community members to celebrate the real legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. “The King that did work that was worthy of being honored didn’t make people feel comfortable,” he said.
Johnson is an awarding-winning journalist, communications specialist, partner and Chief of Strategy for the Baltimore based branding firm Illume Communications. He is an MSNBC contributor and White House Correspondent for NBC’s website theGrio. The Office of Multicultural Affairs at UTC sponsored his visit.
His thought-provoking keynote presentation at the MLK Commemoration Breakfast “Unclaimed Legacy: Who will lead the next social movement” began with his theory that if King was still living in 2015, his dream would be different than it was in the 1960s. Equality at restaurant lunch counters and public restrooms aren’t the issues anymore. Johnson is frustrated by the way America celebrates King’s legacy with speeches and pictures of him on tee shirts, a feel-good way to commemorate someone who was unafraid to examine complex issues.
“People want to sound like King, but they are not motivated to feel like they want to change. They are not provided a strategy,” Johnson explained. “Transformation is not about talking, it’s a legitimate discussion about changing laws.”
He pointed to the sweeping changes from the 1940s through the 1970s when Civil Rights laws were enacted, saying it didn’t take an armed revolution to enact legislation. He said he is glad to see young people protesting in the streets, giving voice to serious, pressing problems.
On college campuses, he believes community should have more weight than diversity. He’s appreciative of diversity, but he is more concerned about building a community for everyone to thrive after students have arrived on a campus.
Johnson asked everyone in the next year to take a little bit of Dr. Martin Luther King and speak the truth, enter nontraditional partnerships, maybe become a little uncomfortable. He encouraged everyone to consider their own legacy. “Ask yourself ‘What will I leave on this earth?’” he said.
Following his first address, Johnson took his challenge to the University Center Auditorium where he addressed UTC students and students from three invited area high schools, Brainerd, Tyner Academy and The Howard School.
Robert Fisher introduced Johnson at the breakfast event. The UTC SGA President and Brock Scholar felt Johnson’s message was “spot on.”
“Jeff really challenged us to think about the progress we have made and the progress we are not making,” Fisher said.
Coming soon: Black History Month events at UTC
Tuesday, February 3
Incognito: The Play, will be held from 8-10 p.m. in the UTC University Center Auditorium. Michael Fosberg’s autobiographical theatrical presentation, Incognito, is a one-man show where Fosberg relives the life-changing revelation of finding out he’s half black at the age of 34. Fosberg engages his audience in a journey through his thoughts and emotions and an entertaining depiction of different characters surrounding his story. There will be a discussion and Q and A with Fosberg following the presentation.
Wednesday, February 4
Black Voices Speaker Series with Dan Lothian will be held from 7:30-9:30 p.m. at the Multicultural Center.
The Former CNN White House Correspondent will speak on the role of the media in Black America. Discussion to follow.