Q&A with famed journalist and MLK guest speaker Roland Martin

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  • Famed journalist and four-time NAACP Image award winner will speak on the Georgia Southern Campus Jan. 30. In a pre-ceremony Q&A, Martin discusses race, inclusion, and white America’s roll in ending racism. 

Shiann Sivell

Four-time NAACP Image award winner Roland Martin will speak on pressing issues at the 2019 Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration on Wednesday.

Martin said that his speech will be targeted towards the younger generation and how they can continue the fight for social justice.

Q: How did you acquire the NAACP award four times?

The NAACP Image Award Winner, an annual award presented by the U.S.-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to honor outstanding people of color in media.

A: “The first Image award I won was for my interview with Obama, and it was the first Image award that the network had won in history. Then I won one for the interview with Michelle Obama.

I’ve probably been nominated probably ten times or so. The last two years, they created a category for best host and I won that award for the last two years.

It’s certainly an honor being recognized by the public for my work and I’m really appreciative being nominated for the last four Image awards. I’m looking forward to this year and hoping I’ll pick up a fifth.”

Q: For your upcoming speech, what topics are you hoping to touch on?

A: “One of the things that I am looking to do is to speak to the next generation to get them to understand that they have a role and responsibility to be next generation leaders.

I think it’s one thing to look back on Dr. King and his life and to celebrate his work and that of the other workers in the black freedom movement, but we have to treat social justice and civil rights as a continuum, and that is a costly pursuit in us becoming a more perfect union.

I think what happens is there are some people who want to look back and be reflective as opposed to what it is we can do present day to be able to lead, to be able to tackle the issues that we are still being confronted with in the 21st century.”

Q: What do you believe is the biggest in terms of inclusion and diversity going on in our country?

A: “I think what we are facing right now is a nation that is struggling with changing demographics. White fear is driving America as we speak.

There is massive fear of black and brown people becoming the majority in this country and whether we want to own it or not, whether we want to accept that or not, it is a reality.

We are seeing it in our politics, we are seeing it in other places, and by the year 2043 we are expected to become a nation where the majority of people are of color and America is going to be grappling with that over the next 25 years.

We might as well buckle up because it is going to be a constant that is going to challenge white America to accept that the hierarchy is going to look totally different than it has looked since the 1700s.”

Q: How do you think we can continue the conversation about diversity and anti-racism?

A: “You can’t continue a conversation about the reality of race unless you are able to admit it is a reality, and that you are able to admit that that issue is no different than the issue of sexism.

Race is embedded in the DNA of America. Unfortunately, we’ve had too many Americans that have chosen to ignore our history and act as if it is only in the past tense without realize that we are still dealing with it today. When we talk about the implicit bias that is still the residual effects of race.

When we talk about the way we receive others and the assumptions that we make, that is the same thing. We simply, first of all, have to own up to it. Unfortunately, we have Americans in far too much denial about how deeply race is embedded in our consciousness and how it has infected and affected our public prowess.”

Q: What advice can you give to someone who may be trying to better understand racism and micro-aggressions and the role they play in it?

A: “It’s not a question of the role that people play. I think we have to be conscious of who we are and our surroundings, but also what is inside of us.

I think a lot of us don’t really think in terms of truth-analyzing things that our mothers and fathers may have told us growing up, how church members, our family members, and our neighbors, all of that plays a roll in who we are today, and then our thoughts and our perspectives.

I think we all have to go through this self-assessment in terms of asking the questions ‘who am I?’, ‘how did I get to this place?’ ‘how do I think the way that I do?’ ‘how do I see the world the way that I do?’ and then once we do that we get a different understanding of how we now see the world.

The things we read, the things that we study, the things that we watch all play a role in that as well.”

Q: Do you believe it’s possible to change minds?

A: “Oh yes. You can absolutely change hearts and change minds. But I can’t change your heart and your mind unless you come to a conclusion that it needs to be changed. They have to have an acknowledgment that what they have been saying and doing is a desire of being changed.”

Q: In what way do you think we can enlighten others on racism?

A: I think we have to drive more engagement individually, socially and culturally. In the movie Malcolm X, there was a white woman who approached Malcolm X and she said ‘What can I do to help you and your people and your cause?.’ In the movie, Malcolm X said ‘Nothing’ and walked off.

In the book, he regretted that interaction and said he would have challenged her to go back to her community and immobilize and organize and educate other whites. It is important for white Americans to deal with white Americans about the issue of race.”

Martin will speak Wednesday at 12 p.m. in the Student Union Ballroom on the Armstrong Campus and at 7 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center on the Statesboro Campus.

Shian Sivell, The George-Anne Enterprise Reporter, gaeditor@georgiasouthern.edu