Sedalians young and old and of many different ethnic backgrounds joined together Monday to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr. during the annual MLK Day Celebration.
Despite bitterly cold temperatures Monday, a sizable crowd turned out for the festivities that began at Sacred Heart Church and ended at the Sedalia Municipal Building after a march down Third Street. The theme for 2016 was “Confronting the Institution: Facing and Talking About Institutionalized Racism,” while also focusing on bringing people of all races and genders together by inviting a variety of musical groups to perform.
Rhonda Chalfant, president of the Pettis County chapter of NAACP, was the main speaker during the Sacred Heart portion Monday morning. She said people should try to break all stereotypes, whether the stereotype is positive or negative, and that we should examine ourselves first, looking at how we see ourselves in relation to others.
“How are we privileged? We can recognize that really rich folks seem to have it easier and better than poor folks. Maybe it shouldn’t be that way, but it is. But can we also recognize that we may be privileged by gender or by race?” Chalfant said. “… We have to be aware of that and we have to confront it, no matter how uncomfortable it may be.”
She said people must also realize the difference between a statement of preference and a statement of fact when trying to address racism or sexism.
“Feelings are good, but we cannot confuse facts with feelings,” she said. “And we have to look at the situation and recognize the different types of statements we can make about that situation.”
Chalfant challenged all those in attendance to engage in “rational discussion of the issues.”
“The only way we are going to as a nation deal with the issues of discrimination, deal with the issues that continue to exist, that keep us from recognizing Dr. King’s dream, is to look at ourselves,” Chalfant said as she concluded her speech. “Look at the situation and talk about it.”
Joyce Foster, a Sedalia native and nursing instructor at State Fair Community College, addressed the group who made the trek to the Sedalia Municipal Building. She noted that she was issuing a challenge because she was drawing from personal experiences dealing with racism — she was born at Hospital No. 2, the hospital for black citizens at the time, and began attending the “white” school in Sedalia when she entered eighth grade. She said after those experiences, she promised herself she’d never treat anyone like that.
“I remember my mother said, ‘you never ever let anyone make you feel bad because of the color of your skin because if you do, they own you. The day someone makes you feel bad about who you are, they own you,’” Foster said. “From that standpoint, we have to examine ourselves. Racism exists everywhere, because my grandmother told me once, ‘you better not bring a white boy in this house.’ So the truth is we have to get it out in the open. Some of us were brought up with ideas and notions.
“Sometimes we blame one race; well, we must examine ourselves and see what’s inside of us. Until we’re ready to examine ourselves, we cannot be very helpful to anyone else.”
Offering the young person’s perspective on racism, Sakkyra King, an eighth grader from Jefferson City, gave her own challenge. She spoke about racism in school, and how more time should be spent on black history to inspire more students, rather than only learning about Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks each year.
“Now don’t get me wrong, these are two important people in black history and American history, but why teach us what they did but not why they’re doing it?” she said. “I would like for schools to be more descriptive in why black people were standing up for their rights so kids can actually feel the pain and struggle people went through to get us to where we are today, although we still have a long way to go.”
Foster summarized her points by issuing her challenge: walk in love.
“If you don’t like what you see in the mirror, you have to change it because Dr. King says, ‘I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too big of a burden to bear,’” Foster said. “So my challenge is, walk in love. If you want to follow Dr. King’s dream, it’s love. It’s not a black thing, it’s not a white thing. It’s a universal thing.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.