Martin Luther King’s Day: The Search for a Prototype to Advocate for Social Justice for Liberia’s Education Sector

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Simply Thinking Thoughts

In my thinking thoughts last night, I realized that it would soon be January 19 and the people of United States would be observing a National Holiday in remembrance of one of its greatest sons and foremost human rights activists, Dr. Martin Luther King. Dr. King was the chief spokesman for nonviolent activism in the civil rights movement, which successfully protested racial discrimination in federal and state law. Observed on the third Monday of January each year, which is around the time of King's birthday, January 15, it was signed into law in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan.

One of the hallmarks of Dr. King’s advocacy was that “All men are created equal… and every man should be judged by the content of his character and not the color of his skin.” Most of all, Dr. King dreamed that one day Black people and White people would be able to hold positions that were set aside only for White people, go places, board conveyances and choose their own seats, kneel at altars for prayer alongside White people and enjoy all legal rights and privileges that Almighty God ascribed to his creation without measures.

In my opinion, although the observance of this holiday was approved at least half a century ago, it gained exceptional significance when the first black man, Barack Obama, was elected President of the United States of America in 2008. This achievement of the Negro race in the US was due to the resilience, tenacity and willpower of Dr. King and those who believed in his exemplary ideals. I suddenly began to wonder if Liberia has ever identified an exemplary Martin Luther King.

Who could be Liberia’s Martin Luther King?

While Liberia may not have ben bridled with racial segregation as was the United Sates back in the day, there appears to have always been apparent generational lines of demarcation between classes. As a state established by free slaves from the United States, Liberia was ruled for at a least a century by Americo-Liberians who were minority fair skin curly hair free slaves who arrived on this West Coast of Africa to re-settle. Unfortunately, immediately they assumed gubernatorial roles, they began to treat the natives or aborigines as heathens, similar to their treatment during the slavery days.

The only note of a dark skinned Liberian President was Edward J. Roye who history purports got drowned at sea trying to escape justice. Whether this is true, the history did not say he was a Martin Luther King advocating social justice.  Over the recent decades, several voices have resonated calling for social justice in Liberia, some catalyzing peaceful and radical changes.

Around 1960 -1970 there rose Albert Porte, a political commentator, pamphleteer and social justice advocate. The campaigns launched by Mr. Porte catalyzed political consciousness among young people around the country. Upon his death, Comrade Porte had set up the nation for an era of political activism.

The 1970s received Comrade Gabriel Baccus Matthews and the more radical Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) which later metamorphosed into a Progressive People’s Party (PPP). The result of PAL’s frequent protest campaigns was the infamous April 14, 1979 Rice Riot demonstration which spilled over into extensive destruction of properties and loss of lives. Baccus Matthews et al. were arrested, but later pardoned by President Tolbert.

In 1980, a young immature Master Sergeant Samuel Kanyon Doe borrowed the ideals of PAL when he claimed he had assassinated President Tolbert and cabinet because of rampant corruption, social injustice and to set the “native man” free. He was flanked by Baccus Matthews and other PAL members as he struggled through his speech announcing the dawn of a so-called new era. The mantra was that “native man was free at last”

After 10 years of a hybrid military-civilian rule, a group of Liberians residing in theUnited Sates fashioned as the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) launched a civil uprising that assassinated President Doe and installed its leader Charles McArthur Taylor who himself was half Americo-Liberian.

Around the time of Charles Taylor’s reign, several social justice advocacies including those of Counselor Tiawan Gongloe and Attorney Samuel Kofi Woods were the “Johns in the wilderness”. I can imagine the feeling that crept over Counselor Gongloe when he, as Solicitor General of Liberia, placed the handcuffs on the hands of President Charles Taylor who had tortured him almost to death for his advocacy activities, sent him off to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Conclusions

Now, of all of the advocates I have struggled to profile, which of them is your MLK? You will note that, Liberia has gone through so many stages of real and perceived change, and peaceful or vicious activisms that it is almost difficult to nominate a peaceful non-violent MLK prototype by consensus, especially so that your choice would be different from mine.

My MLK would NOT be someone who advocated for political changein the past, but rather someone who advocated for a holistic reform in our education sector. It would be somebody who will insist on quality education, no matter the cost; someone who understands education economics and education management, with willpower to apply it regardless of political chicaneries and manipulations; willing to stand up to fight, mind you, not with clenched fists, but with professional justifications propounding education is the bed rock of successful nations. My MLK would clearly articulate the point that at least 25% of the national budget should go to education so that teachers and science colleges can be totally tuition free.

As Liberia’s step parent, the United States of America, observes MLK Day, I propose that every Liberian takes a step back to deeply reflect. Amidst all the vicissitudes of our time, and turbulence in education, just who could be our Martin Luther King?

 Who could be our advocate for improved quality of education? Improved incentives and conditions for education workers? Who will stand up and insist that there be increased budgetary allotment for the education sector? Who will take up the mantle, and advocate in a peaceful manner like MLK and sing the old Negro patriotic song “We (teachers) shall overcome… someday”?

The search has ensued and I am simply thinking thoughts!!!!!!

“Happy Martin Luther King’s Day”

About the author

The Rivercess man, Moses Blonkanjay Jackson is a triple Ivy League product, and a Jesuit protégé; Mr.  Jackson is a Yale University Mathematics Curriculum Fellow, and a University of Pennsylvania Physics Curriculum Fellow. Mr. Jackson holds a Master of Education(Ed.M.) degree from Harvard University and a Master of Education with Secondary Mathematics (MsEd) concentration from Saint Joseph’s University.

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