Charles Steele

By Charles Steele, Jr.
NNPA Guest Columnist

From time to time, we are presented with what is called a “teachable moment.” Often they come when we least expect as is the case of LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling. We have heard his vile words with our own ears:

“It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with Black people. Do you have to?…” After Sterling told his mistress not to bring Blacks to “my games,” he also instructed her not to bring Magic Johnson, either.

The controversy provoked by Sterling’s raw racism – expressed to a mistress who is part Mexican and part African-American – erupted like a tornado and shook our very foundation of soul.

While we were celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and still basking in the memory of the 1963 March on Washington, Sterling reminded us that rather than being fixated on the past, we need to address present-day racism. We do not see Bull Connor ordering police dogs on innocent, unarmed school children in Birmingham, Ala. or witness powerful fire hoses knocking elderly African Americans to the ground, but make no mistake: Racism is still alive and kicking in 2014.

We must address racism whether it is the spoken words of an NBA owner or the written words of a conservative U.S. Supreme Court majority that is chipping away the foundation of the Voting Rights Act, affirmative action and anything that comes close to bringing about a fair and just society.

To his credit, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, with strong backing from present and former NBA players – some speaking up on race for the first time – moved swiftly in banning Sterling from the NBA for life. With a league that is 76 percent African American, it was the right moral, political and business decision.

But we can’t let this forced and fleeting conversation on race end there. As many have said, slavery was America’s birth defect.  Our Founding Fathers fought for their freedom from Great Britain while denying African descendants “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Bill Bradley, a Rhodes Scholar and an NBA player from another era, put it this way: “Slavery was America’s original sin and racism remains its unresolved dilemma.”

And it will remain our unresolved dilemma as long as we refuse to talk honestly and openly about race until there is a crisis, such as the one created by Donald Sterling.

Malcolm X reminded us that we are either part of the problem or part of the solution. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose shoes I am walking in as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) gave his life while searching for solutions that would bind people together, not tear them apart.

Forty-six years after his assassination, Dr. King’s teachings are offered around the world by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) – in communities and countries where people are eager to learn the Kingian theory of non-violence. A prophet is usually without honor in his own home, but it is time for us to apply Dr. King’s teachings throughout the United States.

Accordingly, we in SCLC have created an online petition called “We Won’t Go Back.” The purpose of this online petition is to recommit ourselves to standing up against racial inequalities, racial hatred and discrimination of any type. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor    eloquently argued in her recent affirmative action opinion, we can’t just wish racism and bigotry away – we must do something to make that a reality.

And that’s the challenge Dr. King’s organization is making now to America. You can join us in this campaign by signing our petition at (click the recommit button). It’s not intended to be an end, but a start.

As Dr. King urged us:  “If you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run, then walk, if you can’t walk, then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”

Will you move forward with us?

Charles Steele, Jr., a former Alabama state senator, is president and CEO of the Atlanta-based Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

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