Photo attributed to Shaun King’s twitter profile
By Adam Mahoney and Sophia Crum, staff writers
Students filed into Cahn Auditorium on Thursday, November 9 to see Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King deliver a State of the Black Union speech hosted by the student group For Members Only, or FMO. His speech centered around the idea that though technology is on an upward trend of improvement, the history of humanity’s morality is a “series of peaks and valleys.”
“If we’re getting better and better and better, how do we explain this?,” King said, showing shocking images throughout human history that demonstrated our consistent ability to inflict terror and hostility. His pictures featured men in concentration camps that looked malnourished and frail, and another photo featured open wounds on a beaten slave’s body which glared back at the audience from the presentation on stage.
“More people [are] in prison [in America] than any other country in the history of the world?” King asked rhetorically. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, in 1925, there was a U.S. state and federal prison population of approximately 100,000. By 2013, it was about 1,574,700. King also said some experts believe that this year, it’s closer to three million.
King presented the audience his hypothesis on how to predict when these dips in humanity will occur in history. “When there is something innovative that’s introduced that disturbs the primary people in power,” he says, placing emphasis on the word “disturbs”. “Ugliness always happens as a response.”
He gave the audience three examples. The end of slavery was marked by the 13th Amendment and the Emancipation Proclamation. The start of anti-racist practices also marked the explosion of lynching and the KKK.
After passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, all Americans were guaranteed the right to vote for the first time. It was another example of legislative and social innovation. But mass incarceration soon followed—another dip.
King pulled on recent political events for his last example. America’s first 43 presidents were all white, until Barack Obama took office. America was moving in the right direction once again. But over the course of his two terms, hate crimes increased. The election of America’s first black president disturbed a lot of people, especially Donald Trump, the man who represents the current dip our society is in now.
King also spoke of how in a recent interview, former president Obama wondered if he was elected before America was ready. King disagreed, and stated, “Had he been elected 20 years from now, the same stuff would have happened.”
King also attempted to capture his audience’s attention with deeply-rooted emotional traumas in the black community over the past three years since the BLM movement gained national recognition.
According to King, in 2016, 102 unarmed Black men, women and children were killed by the police. King made sure to note that this number was missing one person who was killed with a spoon in his possession and one person who was killed with a broom in his possession. These statements were met with gasps across the audience as he attempted to subliminally show the audience that this could be anyone’s fate in today’s socio-economic and political climate.
“The number 102… made me see where we are in today’s humanity,” said Northwestern University student Shalan Tekeste.
King’s speech included a number of personal lessons he thought the audience should learn, like for example how he believes change happens. He said that change only happens if four factors are working harmoniously: an organized group of people, passion and momentum, an effective plan, and money.
King emphasized most of all that what the movement really boils down to during this time of sociopolitical turmoil is to trust your heart, your mind, your soul—whatever you call your instinct.
“I want to encourage you—at a time where it can be difficult to discern what’s true, what’s false, what’s real, what isn’t—I want to encourage you to trust your gut,” King said.
After the event, an intimate reception was held where invited guests could have a more personal discussion on current issues Blacks are facing today. King was asked a variety of questions, some more harsh than others.
“How am I supposed to just forget a part of my identity?” FMO Freshman Executive President Taylor Bolding asked King.
King met and answered these questions as he gave his opinions, but made sure to reiterate the fact that he was not necessarily right about all of his statements.
“You have the right to not follow anything I said today,” said King as he was quickly ushered out of the reception almost two hours after its start time.
Although King’s opinions don’t resonate with everyone else’s, the dialogue about the status of Blacks in America was heard on Northwestern’s campus. Northwestern must continue to have this dialogue and make change as necessary to accommodate the needs of its marginalized students.