By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s memory continues to inspire a new and up and coming generation of young, bold and courageous freedom fighters throughout the world, said NNPA President and CEO Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., during a powerful keynote address he delivered on Tuesday, Jan. 15 at Essex County College’s Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.
“Today, in his blessed name, I challenge the youth of America and the youth of the world to rise up, speak out, and to push forward for freedom, justice and equality,” said Chavis, a noted civil rights activist who counts among the famed “Wilmington 10,” who were falsely accused and wrongly convicted in connection with a 1970s firebombing of a grocery store in North Carolina.
The firebombing happened as Black high school students protested racial discrimination.
A federal appeals court later overturned the convictions of Chavis and his companions because the prosecutor withheld evidence that would have exonerated the group. Also, the trial judge limited cross-examination of witnesses who received favors for their tainted testimony.
The Wilmington 10 received a pardon in 2012 – some four decades after their wrongful convictions.
“These convictions were tainted by naked racism and represent an ugly stain on North Carolina’s criminal system that cannot be allowed to stand any longer,” said then-Gov. Beverly Purdue, who issued the pardons. “Justice demands that this stain finally be removed.”
Chavis’ address invigorated the large crowd at Essex College’s Mary Burch Theater.
“This is significant that we have as our keynote speaker someone of the stature of Dr. Chavis who has been in the forefront of the Civil Rights movement,” Dr. Akil Khalfani, the director of the Africana Institute at Essex County College, said in a statement.
With the national holiday honoring King ahead on Monday, Jan. 21, Chavis will deliver another keynote address – this time in Illinois at the Alpha Phi Alpha Candlelight Vigil.
The 7 p.m. program will take place at the Alice Millar Chapel on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston and include spoken work artist Timothy Mays.
The fraternity chose Chavis to deliver the keynote, in part, because of his status as NNPA president and CEO, entrepreneur, global business leader, NAACP Life Member, journalist, educator and civil rights leader.
“The National Newspaper Publishers Association continues to publish in the freedom-fighting tradition of Martin Luther King Jr.,” said Chavis, who earned a master’s degree in Divinity from Duke University and a doctorate from Howard University.
“I am optimistic today because I know Dr. King’s dream foreshadows the future when every child of God, without racial limitation or discrimination will be able to fulfill their God-given right to the best in education, health care, housing, wealth-sharing, economic progress, family solidarity, and beloved community empowerment.”