Q. What are your remarks going to be about on Jan. 26?
A. It strikes me that Dr. King often talked about justice – the role of justice, the need for justice. One of his quotes is, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
If you look at many of his sermons, [the way] he talks about justice is something important to talk to all students about. I mean, there’s the idea that law has always been harsh law. It gives you one remedy: If you do this, then this must happen.
The justice component of law used to be what we call the equity side of the court. A man who stole a loaf of bread for his starving children who would die that night if they didn’t eat is treated a little bit differently than the guy who stole a loaf of bread to resell it so he could buy liquor.
Q. How did you learn about Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. when you were growing up?
A. Well, I’m born in [that time]. The place I lived was permeated by the struggle for justice and he was a leader. I was thinking about that, too. We’re at the point now that most of the young people are too late – they just don’t know. I mean, they may have heard a recording, but I’ve actually been in church and heard him preach, and have gone on stage and shaken his hand, so he’s a very strong recollection.
He was speaking at a rally in Norfolk, [where I was] born and raised. My mother had something to do with getting people to come out to a rally. She was on stage and, after the speech, people were milling around. I came up on stage where my mother was, walked over and was able to shake his hand. I was maybe 9 or something like that – 1959 or 1960.
Q. Is there a part of his legacy that you feel is important to carry on in our current times?
A. You talk about our soldiers sometimes going into harm’s way – you know that phrase. They go in all the way; they go into danger. Well, Martin Luther King, certainly, he went places where people were threatening to kill him and all that, and he went there to confront injustice.
And that is what we need. We can’t be silent. … We should not be inactive. We shouldn’t just sit on our hands. We should get up and grapple with that. That message was taught to me as a child. Black children in my generation who were educated in segregated schools up until 1965 and early in the days of integration. … Teachers basically told us that when you leave this environment – they were talking about Black schools and the segregated environment – they would tell us you have to make the difference. Basically, we were raised that this is your job. When you go out into the rest of the world, you have to make a difference.
Other Events in MLK Program
Blay will give a keynote presentation on Jan. 26 at 6 p.m. in the Paramount Theater. She is widely respected as one of the foremost scholar-activists on Black racial identity, colorism and beauty politics. Free tickets are available by registering with the Paramount Theater.