The awareness brought on by activist Martin Luther King Jr., outlined a plan for empowerment; he addressed it to a society founded on freedom. King spoke of unity in a time of division, to celebrate his life and reflect on what he stood for, Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas paid tribute to King’s accomplishments; by curating the 29th Annual Empowerment Congress Summit during the week the nation celebrated Martin Luther King Day.
On Saturday, January 16, Congressmember Karen Bass opened the summit from her office in Washington D.C. She shared her experience of the “insurrection” that took place on Capitol Hill on January 6. Bass said, “I looked out of the window and I spoke to a member of the Capitol Police, I said ‘what’s going on outside?’”
The policemen confirmed the protesting “seems to have changed in tone.” Bass went on to explain her feelings in that moment, she said, “Little did I know, a few minutes later they would storm the very steps where I was on top of. They would over run the Capitol police, breaking into the building, and begin to destroy things—actually looking for the Speaker of the House, looking for the vice president, as they chanted that they wanted to hang him because he refused to violate the constitution …”
Bass described her colleagues as being terrified, and the policymakers were boarded up in rooms as the doors were being pounded on. Bringing it back to the concerns of present day, Bass spoke of the needed change in power, and the future steps that will be taken to respond to COVID-19. She spoke of her confidence in the Biden-Harris administration and their efforts to provide relief.
Although COVID-19 prohibits physical gatherings, the virtual event was tethered to the main goal of social responsibility. The Empowerment Congress Summit looked to bring awareness to the current times of drastic change, and why the well-being of one, affects everyone else. This is a lesson reinforced by the fatality of the COVID-19 outbreak; the use of masks not only protects oneself, but it also sends a message of mindfulness to the surrounding population.
The theme for this years’ summit is to “re-imagine civic engagement and fuel a movement for a better tomorrow,” and it was hosted by radio personality, Dominique DiPrima. She outlined the goal for the event, she said, “Our goal is to create not just a chance to reflect, but to reset our intentions and turn them into opportunities for engagement—in an effort to better our community.”
The online gathering continued to show national influence, the audience heard from all levels of government. Each of them took a moment to gather their thoughts of progression; they shared their personal gratitude for King’s map to the promised land. The elected officials had common goals in nurturing the seeds King planted; a world without the aggression that fuels an imbalanced hierarchy, that will lead to opportunities to have the best quality of life.
California State Governor, Gavin Newsom tuned in to project unity and a sense of hope. He said, “ It’s right to reflect on Dr. King and so much of not on what he stood for, but what he promoted, nothing more than the foundation of the notion that we are all bound together as he said, ‘in a web of mutuality.’”
Racism does not just affect one group; it affects everyone sharing the timeline of inequality. This was a major pillar used to build King’s foundation of peace, that housed his mission for equality. During the time of segregation, it may have felt unattainable, but King hoped for a reality where opportunity for freedom existed for all. Over forty years have passed since his claim for peace, and a new level of social awareness is being harvested from the seeds King planted.
The audience sat in solitude, as Ridley-Thomas filled their homes with a frequency of reflection. A slide show of historic moments of King’s life played on the screen, the energy and passion radiating from the captured moments. Elected officials shared their experiences on how some part of King played into their perspective of civic duty; to protect and serve the people that make up the community.
Every inch gained to better humanity, has led to the uncovering of the real measurement of work that still needs to be done. Ridley-Thomas has rolled up his sleeves and dived into the abyss of problems the community is facing, he looks to find the hidden resolution for issues that plagued humanity for generations.
Through recent events that took place on Capitol Hill, there is much ground to be covered, but gatherings like the Empowerment Congress Summit creates a sense of security around the community, in a time of disparity. The event looks to bridge public policy and the neighborhoods they serve together, in order to improve the quality of life for all diverse groups.
Ridley-Thomas closed the ceremony with a word of encouragement, that followed the reality of where the community is on the spectrum of increased civic engagement. The Councilmember stated, “This is the fundamental principle of self-determination, we defined what civic engagement could look like.” Ridley-Thomas shared his sight of unity seen across the 10th district, neighbors helping neighbors survive through a time of uncertainty. He stated, “Our diversity is married to our commonality—we call it community.”
Civic engagement promotes power and influence, breaking through the barriers of inequality. Although the world is looking at another source of division from COVID-19, King’s mission built the confidence for the collective community to rally for change and continuously submit to a new level of awareness.
According to Oxford Languages Dictionary Publisher, empowerment is “the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.” The Annual Empowerment Congress Summit reflected on the will of King’s mission for peace and made it stronger, by recognizing the influence that his legacy has on the lives that came after his era.