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Tacoma educator: Great progress since days of MLK, but much left to do

In this Aug. 28, 1963 file photo, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., delivers his "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, D.C. King won the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, recognized for his leadership in the American civil rights movement and for advocating non-violence. This year's winner is set to be announced on Friday, Oct. 6, 2017. (AP Photo/File)
LISTEN: Tacoma educator on MLK and the work left to be done

Martin Luther King Jr. gave his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech on Aug. 28, 1963. Now, nearly 57 years later, Ron and Don ask how America is doing at achieving his dream.

If you ask the assistant principal at Tacoma’s Lincoln High School, Logic Amen, there has been great progress since the days of MLK. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of work left to do.

“I think we’re definitely working together,” he said. “All those things are happening, but at what cost?”

RELATED: Martin Luther King Jr’s one visit to Seattle left a lasting legacy

That cost, according to Amen, is a lack of autonomy and self-esteem as a community that black Americans still strive for.

“We give up so much of who we are once we agree to integrate into white America,” he said. “That integration turns into assimilation and we give up who we are based on white standards. White standards of living. White standards of beauty. White standards of education and so forth. So yeah, we are integrated. But the question is: what do we give up and at what cost?”

Make America great again

Looming over the conversation is the state of America. The country elected and re-elected its first African-American president. But he was replaced with a president who has said: a judge’s opinion should be invalidated because of his Hispanic ancestry; that immigrants are rapists; that Haitian immigrants have AIDS; that there were a lot of good people in a Nazi rally that resulted in the death of a woman. Not to mention the word he recently chose to describe African countries.

It all prompted Ron to ask how that can make black Americans feel.

Amen’s answer remains the same. He stresses that problems stem from the lack of autonomy.

“When has America been great for black and brown people?” he said. “I’m sure there have been some pockets of time, like the Harlem Renaissance … Actually, a lot of the times when America was great for black and brown people was during segregation. A lot of people don’t want to talk about that. When we had the negro leagues, when we had booming businesses, black-owned businesses when it took longer than 24-48 hours for a dollar to leave our community.”

“What are people with privilege willing to do to grant that autonomy and not be scared that one day we are going to take revenge for all the things done to us?” Amen said. “Just for us to have some form of autonomy, to have some kind of self-respect, self-esteem, and confidence collectively…”

Do not misunderstand what Amen says. He is quick to point out that Jim Crow and segregation were bad issues in American history. But the one small benefit was the ability for black communities to have some amount of independence.

MLK: Militant healer

When reflecting on MLK Day, Amen says that it took time for him to fully understand what made the civil rights leader so great.

“To be a healer like Martin Luther King is an extremely militant position to take, especially in the face of so much violence,” Amen said. “If you have the ability to take your hurt and turn it into a healing mechanism, that is one of the most powerful things you can do as a human being. Because we all hurt. How can you hurt and not hurt another person?”

“It creates so many opportunities to be a better person if you can figure out how to take your hurt to heal,” he said. “And that’s exactly what Martin Luther King did. I didn’t understand that when I was a kid. I was a big Malcolm X guy, and I still am a big Malcolm X guy, but I learned as I got older that there is extreme value in learning how to heal by using your hurt.”

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