NEW YORK—On the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, Reverend Ralph Abernathy III reminded churchgoers in Harlem of the problems that plagued communities of color in a speech that evoked the language of King’s.
“They killed the dreamer,” said Abernathy III, referring to King’s assassination in 1968, “but not the dream.”
Using the same historical argument that black rights activists, including W.E.B. Du Bois, had been writing and speaking on for decades, the reverend paid homage to his father, Martin Luther King’s associate, through a speech that continued advocating for civil rights.
African-Americans still have a long way to go in the fight for racial equality, said the reverend, phrasing the commonly agreed upon statement in plain terms.
“The dream is a nightmare,” when kids drop out of high school, a vast amount of African-Americans live in poverty, and a high percentage of blacks are incarcerated, said Abernathy III, using the phrase as a refrain.
In 2013, for instance, 6.4 percent of blacks were arrested in New York City compared to 1.2 percent of whites, according to a 2014 John Jay College report.
“If you want to stay out of prison: stay in school,” said Abernathy III, who personally was jailed at age nine for marching in a civil rights protests and then jailed several decades later for marijuana possession. He asked audience members to raise their hands if they had any family members or friends who were serving time. There was a scattered show of hands.
“Slavery is still legal in America,” said the reverend, adding that it was now called incarceration. “Do you want to be a slave? No matter it takes, education is a cornerstone of freedom.”
If parents had a problem with rap music, they should change neighborhoods, Abernathy recommended, because rap music described the neighborhood.
The remedy for sagging pants? “Raise your children’s minds, and the pants will follow,” said Abernathy.
His speech was met with the loudest applause of the service.
Robert Dottin, a genetics professor at Hunter College, City University of New York, said, “He’s a very articulate, spellbinding speaker.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly gave Robert Dottin’s title. He is a genetics professor at Hunter College. Epoch Times regrets the error.