Martin Luther King, Jr., would have been 86 years old today, 15 January 2015. Tragically, he was gunned down at 39 in his prime. Who was the man? He was a leader who espoused using non-violent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs as an American pastor to advance civil rights in the African-American Civil Rights Movement.
Last week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met Film Director, Ava DuVernay at an advance screening of Paramount Pictures’ “Selma: One Dream Can Change the World.” The movie focuses on the epic struggle of Reverend King’s marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, culminating in the 1965 Voting Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson. The film depicts the trials of ordinary citizens, historical events, and the dynamics between Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King, Jr.
As part of its Remember Slavery program, the event was co-organized by Paramount Pictures, the New Jersey Amistad Commission, and UN Department of Public Information (DPI.)
Racism and prejudice continue to persist in our society today. However, films, professional athletes, art, and the media can be educational catalysts to teach young people of its dangers and divisiveness to society. (See: “An Athlete’s Plea to Society.”)
UN News Centre
The film tells the story of the American south in the early 1960s, where black citizens applying to vote were repeatedly blocked by local registrars. By 1965, there were counties in Alabama, one of the worst cases in the south, where not a single black person had voted in any election for the previous 50 years – although African Americans were guaranteed the right to vote in 1870.
These events came to a head on 7 March, 1965, when marchers, led by civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., were assaulted by local and state troopers. Describing her process in directing the film, Ms. DuVernay said her goal was to humanize Dr. King so the audience could connect with him.
“I think if you see [Dr.] King as a man and not a myth, not a ‘mountaintop’ speech and not all of the things that we have constructed about him, and when you see him as a man it allows his greatness to be closer to us and allows us to touch that greatness and be that great.”
New Jersey 7th grader, Celeste Hopkin, told UN Radio that watching Selma inspired her. “Dr. Martin Luther King had hope and that pushed him…and now in Ferguson they need that hope and that guidance to overcome what has happened and not to have it revealed in violence but in a different way,” Celeste added, referring to the city in the US state of Missouri, where in August 2014, unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown was shot by a white police officer.
The Selma screening was part of the UN Remember Slavery Programme, which mobilizes educators to teach about the causes and consequences of the transatlantic slave trade and to communicate the dangers of racism and prejudice.
“Selma reminds us of the issues and challenges that people of African descent have faced in the recent past and continue to face long after slavery has officially ended,” said Maher Nasser, the Acting head of DPI.
The UN General Assembly has proclaimed 2015-2024 as theInternational Decade for People of African Descent citing the need to strengthen cooperation in relation to the full enjoyment of all rights by people of African descent, and their full participation in all aspects of society.
The words and lyrics to Dion’s “Abraham, Martin, & John” echo a reminder that the good they die young, but their message of hope prevails.
UN PHOTO/Loey Felipe: UNSG Ban Ki-moon & Ava DuVernay