The city of Bloomington hosted its annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. birthday celebration yesterday evening at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater. The show featured music from the Indiana University African American Choral Ensemble, and the Fairview Elementary School Choir.
The keynote address was given by Sonia Sanchez; a poet, professor and lecturer on black culture and literature, women’s liberation, peace and racial justice.
The event, whose theme was emphasis on the betterment of youth, featured music from local youth musicians and speeches from community leaders.
A Civil Rights Leader For Decades
Sanchez sat down with WFIU to discuss her experiences as a young woman growing up during the Civil Rights era, and how it has affected her outlook on life today.
“I came out at a time when the students in the south began to demonstrate,” she explains, “we were very much looking at that in the north. I had joined a civil rights organization call New York Corps. We thought we were the most radical people on the planet earth because we shut down Woolworth’s because they weren’t hiring blacks.”
While Sanchez has remained optimistic about the progressive relations in America, she still believes that there is a lot more work to be done.
“The most important message we can give our young,” Sanchez says, “is to not be satisfied with the status quo. More things have changed, but more things need to change.”
Schools Are Failing Children
Sanchez sees urban public schools as failing children, something she is trying to fix.
“There are no books in the schools, the kids don’t go home with books,” she explains. “Last year I did a whole series talks to the Detroit Public Schools. The first thing some of these young people said to me was, ‘These teachers don’t like us’. So I said, ‘What else is new?’ So what does that mean? You become passive, you become aggressive, you withdraw, you get put out of school. We don’t need passive resistance anymore. What we need you to do is stay in that classroom and make that teacher teach you…it’s your given right to be given an education in America and it’s your right for the teachers to teach you.”
Besides being a champion of better race relations in the U.S., Sanchez also fights controversially for GLBT rights when she speaks.
“I do believe that if Jesus were to come into some of our churches,” she says, “he would be not only stretched up on the cross again, but he would be stoned because he wouldn’t look right, he’d have long robe and sandals and hair too long. He would be preaching love, and not only to lepers, but to lesbians, and gay people.”