Rev. Dr. William J. Barber calls for change, empowers community audience

Sanjali De Silva, Senior Staff Reporter

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“Martin Luther King, Coretta Scott — they are dead, and they are not coming back.” Rev. Dr. William J. Barber said. “But it’s our time now. We are their children, and it’s time for us to march and to vote.”

As though a true child of MLK, Barber’s voice made the room shake. His words of urgency and determination were met with shouts and cries of agreement from the audience.

The Amistad Research Center in collaboration with the Office of Multicultural Affairs brought 2018 MacArthur Genius Grant Recipient Barber to McAlister Auditorium. Opening and closing the performance was OperaCreole singers Givonna Joseph and Valencia Pleasant.

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Sanjali De Silva | Senior Staff Photographer
OperaCreole singer Givonna Joseph opens the event with a rendition of “Let Us Sing.”

Barber stands for multiracial, multi-faith movement as he fights for voting rights, universal healthcare, environmental protection and other issues surrounding social justice.

Barber opened his lecture saying he was grateful people had not gathered to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. He said this is because we should not be celebrating martyrs.

“The only way you can pay homage to the martyrs of the cause of love and justice is to go to the place where they fail, reach down in the blood, pick up the baton and carry it the next mile of the way,” Barber said.

These opening words garnered cheers and praise from the audience and set the stage for a conversation about the role people must play in the upcoming election in 2020. Barber claimed there is a national emergency in America, one that is not at the border but rather one that is the result of a backlash against progress.

“It is time now for us to recognize that there is a national emergency and that we are being called by our mere presence in the world, to act now,” Barber said. “ … Together we must remember who we are in this national emergency, we are the warning. We are the alarms. We are the ones who can come together.”

In 2013, Barber led thousands of people on “Moral Mondays,” civil-rights protests at North Carolina’s state legislature. The coalition of progressive organizations still draws in tens of thousands of people every year. He hopes to see people mobilize now, in the face of a crucial upcoming election.

“It is not about whether a party is possible, it is about whether America is possible,” Barber said. “We are in fact, I believe, in the birth pains of a third reconstruction that will live or will be aborted based on what we do.”

Carolyn Barber-Pierre, Assistant Vice President of Multicultural Life, closed the evening with a message from Barber that to get involved, you should text 91975 to join the Poor People’s Campaign.