COLORADO SPRINGS — The words and writings of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. continue to resonate with Americans more than fifty years after his assassination. News5 spoke with Dr. King's nephew, Isaac Newton Farris Jr., who said this MLK Day was different in the wake of the riots at the US Capitol.
Farris Jr. serves as a senior fellow at The King Center, based in Atlanta, Georgia. He said he knew Martin Luther King Jr. as his uncle, not Dr. King. He remembers things like riding bicycles together, and said he was too young at the time to fully understand Dr. King's work. "I didn't really learn about Dr. King until I got older, and actually he had been assassinated by that time," Farris Jr. said.
"The Civil Rights Movement caused the most powerful country in the world to bend to it's will."
However, Farris Jr. said he was raised in a family that was very active in the community for generations. "My grandfather marched on city hall in the 1930's. Which, trust me, was a lot more dangerous than my uncle marching on Washington," said Farris Jr.
Farris Jr. said this is the first MLK Day that's different for the family, as they are trying to focus the attention on something other than Dr. King's work, legacy, or community service. He said they want to address the riots within the US Capitol. "That's the greatness of America, the right to protest for right. But, you've got to do it nonviolently," said Farris Jr.
Farris Jr. said if someone did not relate to the Civil Rights Movement, he hopes they could relate on peaceful protests. "Not all of those people were rioting the Capitol, but unfortunately, there have been people who have been lied to... But, I will defend everybody's right to protest," said Farris Jr., who disagrees with the position of the people at the US Capitol on January 6.
"We can march on the Capitol. That's our house. Now, when we get there, we can't break into the Capitol and beat up the police."
News5 also asked Farris Jr. about the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests sparked across the country during the summer of 2020. "Aside from the loss of life of George Floyd and the way that he lost his life, it was actually kind of gratifying because we began to see the country 'getting it,'" said Farris Jr.
Farris Jr. said any looting or violence during the BLM protests was concerning, but believes many of the people responsible for such actions were not actually part of the movement. "These were thugs. In some cases, trying to take advantage to loot, and in other cases, they were trying to destroy the movement by wreaking havoc... Before the question about the violence kicked in, it was a moment that I wish my uncle had been here to see," said Farris. Jr.
Rev. Dr. Stephany Rose Spaulding said she has been active in the fight for social justice since she started college. For Spaulding, the meaning of MLK Day has not changed throughout her life. "Since I was a little girl, it's been a day of action, and making sure that we are doing service to justice and community," said Spaulding.
"This isn't a one-off, once a year, every January, that we remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This is a conversation, and this is also work that we must do consistently, every day, until every system of oppression is dismantled."
Spaulding said the Civil Rights Movement never came to an end. "Some people like to put a hard stop on it after the Voting Rights Act happened, but for me, this is a continuation of the same work. Until there is justice for everyone, we will be in the midst of a Civil Rights Movement here in this country, and I believe that Martin Luther King Jr. understood that," said Spaulding.
News5 asked if Spaulding has any favorite Martin Luther King Jr. sentiments, and she said it's important to understand the depth and layers of his complete collection of work. "We cannot truncate Martin Luther King Jr. down to a few short phrases. I think, unfortunately, that is how he has been sanitized in the histories of the United States, and for me, it is moreso looking at his writings and really examining his speeches," explained Spaulding.
Spaulding actively participated in the local Black Lives Matter protests, and traveled for some in other locations. She has been performing this kind of activism since before 2020, "but this summer, it was something very different. And, the fact that we were in the middle of a pandemic, and that there were individuals who had never been activated before, coming out in defense of black lives. So, as much as I was frustrated and angry that we are still having to do this work, I was also hopeful and inspired by the swarms of people who were coming out everywhere, in almost every nook and cranny of this country, saying that Black Lives Matter," said Spaulding.
"He taught this country how to protest."
The Law Enforcement Transparency and Accountability Commission (LETAC) was formed in Colorado Springs following the local Black Lives Matter protests. Vice Chair of the commission, Steve Kern, said it's a continuation of the Civil Rights Movement. "A lot of people would say that racism exists between individuals. My sense of this is that nonetheless, there are structures, there are institutions in place that make it either easier for folks to be discriminated against, or in fact, cover up and hide discrimination that's occurring," said Kern.
Kern explained that in the first quarter of 2021, the commission will have their listening and learning sessions, exploring topics like racial bias, crisis response interventions, use of force, and communications between the community and the Colorado Springs Police Department.
LETAC is hosting two virtual Town Halls, where people are invited to share their opinions on policing and public safety.
The first one is coming up quickly on Thursday, January 21 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Then, there's one on Saturday, February 13 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
The website recommends attendees sign up in advance by emailing LETAC@ColoradoSprings.gov or calling (719)385-5480. CLICK HERE for more information.