Reflecting on the woes of the past year — from the protests and burning cities following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis to COVID-19’s disproportionate toll on communities of color to this month’s deadly siege of the U.S. Capitol — Duluth’s new NAACP president said she can’t help but recall the final book written by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Titled, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” the book was published shortly after King was assassinated in 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. That was more than half a century ago — but it may as well have been last week, Duluth NAACP President Classie Dudley said in an interview with the News Tribune Opinion page.
“It’s so relevant today and just reflects what’s going on. We’re in a really chaotic time right now,” Dudley said Thursday by phone. “To really stop the chaos, we have to focus on what the community’s needs are.”
In other words, as King asked, “chaos or community?”
“(The book) focuses on how, from all the chaos, you have to focus on the community (and) community engagement,” Dudley said. “You can’t just be a sheep or silent.”
King’s manuscript — according to Cornell University, he isolated himself in a rented house in Jamaica with no telephone to write what is considered a “significantly prophetic work” — provided inspiration and the theme for this year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day commemoration in Duluth. On Monday, a virtual breakfast celebration featuring The King Center’s Chief Executive Bernice A. King and U.S. Ambassador to the UN Andrew J. Young is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. A virtual rally is at noon. Details are at duluthnaacp.org/MLK.
Asked what message Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2021can send to the Duluth community, considering the gut punches of 2020, Dudley said: “The work is not done yet. There is a lot of stuff still happening, and a lot of things we still need to change. So although people might think 2021 is a new year, we’re still dealing with 2020 issues that we need to really hammer down on, focus on, and be accountable to.”
Asked the same thing by the News Tribune Opinion page, outgoing Duluth NAACP President Stephan Witherspoon said: “This is the call to action. If there was any time in the past 10 or 20 years that we have had calls to action to deal with all these issues we face as a society, now is the time. … Things must change. Things will change. We cannot go backward to where we are segregated by comfort and just not dealing with the issues that separate us. We need to come together and at least respect one another, respect folks for who they are, for their authenticity, for what they believe in. Just have common decency and respect. We need our humanity back. It’s plain and simple. Everybody has to be involved in that — everybody.”
Both Dudley and Witherspoon expressed optimism for 2021, that community can overcome chaos. If this year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday reminds Duluthians of anything, perhaps it should be that: that there’s reason — thankfully and despite all the anxiety and difficulties of the past months — for positivity.
“I’m hopeful because somebody has to be the adult,” Witherspoon said. “Somebody has to say, ‘Hey, we’re better than this. We can do better than this.’”