The Fourth Annual Bay Area Social Justice Forum drew approximately 350 attendees to a day of workshops and presentations, including a keynote speech by Dr. Clayborne Carson on the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Carson is a world-renowned authority on the subject and the director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University.
Carson portrayed King as a visionary who was interested in a broader goal than civil rights.
“He’s saying … let’s look at it from a broader perspective, a historical perspective,” Carson explained at the forum. “Where are we in history? Where are we in the globe? What is the relationship between what is going on in your struggle and the struggle against colonialists that is going on elsewhere in the world? What is the relationship between struggles of civil rights and struggles against poverty?”
Carson said that U.S. social movements of people seeking a better life began to develop in the 18th and 19th centuries as oppressed populations became more literate, migrated to areas that offered more freedom, and learned how to work together in a collective struggle. These movements reached a peak in the two decades after World War II, in part because the war allowed people a glimpse of the world and the possibilities that exist elsewhere. They came back with a taste of freedom and knowledge of how powerful they could be, he said.
It was during this period that King began to play an increasingly important role in the civil rights movement. But if civil rights had been his ultimate goal, King would not have felt compelled to continue his struggle after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Carson claimed.
“You begin to recognize that Martin Luther King was talking about a global freedom struggle,” Carson said. Where as civil rights usually means rights you have as a citizen protected by the government, he said, King promoted a broader view of human rights that is not defined by citizenship.
The forum also included workshops by community organizations and activists on a multitude of social justice issues, such as human trafficking, tenant rights, immigration, and health care. The afternoon panel featured Dolores Huerta, a labor leader and civil rights activist who co-founded the association that would become the United Farm Workers; Rev. Phillip Lawson, who leads the East Bay Housing Organizations Interfaith Action in Housing Program; Rev. Deborah Lee, director of the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights; and Karla Salazar, an HNU alumna and director of St. Mary’s Center Resources for the Third Age, a program dedicated to housing stability for extremely low income and previously homeless seniors.
“My hope is that today you are inspired by the speakers and presenters to ignite or reconnect to your passions and commit to taking action to a cause that is meaningful for you,” Director of the Center for Social Justice and Civic Engagement Keegan Mills said. “There are extraordinary people in this room today—including yourself.”