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Policy Library

Fifty Years After MLK: Civil Rights in a Changing Landscape Recap

April 26, 2018



Guest Post: Jack Caplan is the current Lawyer Referral Service Co-op Intern at the BBA. Jack is a sophomore at Northeastern University studying Politics, Philosophy, and Economics.


Last Thursday, April 19th, on the heels of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., some of Boston’s most prominent champions of civil rights gathered at the BBA for an evening which simultaneously looked back on where the country has been, and looked forward to where it can go.

The all-star lineup consisted of:

Rahsaan Hall, the current Director of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program, was moderator for the evening.  He also manages the “What a Difference a DA Makes” campaign, which seeks to educate the public about how much positive influence a District Attorney can have on their community, lessons he learned in part during his time as an Assistant District Attorney in Suffolk County.

The Honorable Geraldine Hines (Ret.) kicked off her career spearheading the creation of a Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a movement which triggered the National Guard to be deployed at the time, but which later earned her the Distinguished Alumni Award.  After several decades doing civil rights litigation, she was appointed Associate Justice of the Superior Court, and in 2014 became the first black woman to sit on the Supreme Judicial Court.

Barbara Arnwine, the longtime Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, has led a long and robust career fighting for civil rights in the US and abroad.  Focusing much of her work on voting rights, Arnwine helped to create the 2011 “Map of Shame” which shows disenfranchisement efforts across the country.

Segun Idowu has spent most of his life in Boston. A graduate of Boston Latin, Segun went to Morehouse College before returning back home.  In 2014 Segun co-founded the Boston Police Camera Action Team and played a key role in establishing the police body camera system that is expected to be made permanent by the Boston Police Department.  Additionally, Segun is on the leadership team for the Boston NAACP, and is currently running to be the State Representative for the Commonwealth’s 14th District, covering Hyde Park, Roslindale, and West Roxbury.

Iván Espinoza-Madrigal has worked for a number of civil rights-oriented organizations including Lambda Legal and MALDEF, and is currently the Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, an organization leading the charge on a variety of civil rights matters across the Boston area.  He’s been honored as one of the city’s 100 most Influential People of Color, and one of the Best LGBTQ Lawyers under 40, among many other accolades. Last year, he was honored at the 8th Annual BBA Beacon Award.

Panelists kicked things off with a reflection on the impact that Dr. King had on them.  For some, like Segun, it was personal.  He told a packed room how his grandfather was a good friend of King’s and passed down many of his advocacy tactics and strategies, which would eventually become a roadmap for Segun’s police camera advocacy.  For Arnwine, it was all about making sure that the legacy of Dr. King is a living legacy – one that we continue through persistent advocacy for change.  Having lived all over the country, Arnwine discussed how she’s been bringing that fight across multiple states and regions, and how she’s seen that the so-called “problems of the South” aren’t just problems in the South, but up North as well.

Reflecting next on how the racial landscape has evolved in Boston over their lives, panelists provided broad reflections about how the city has changed.  Justice Hines noted how although the daily outright violence that was seen just a few decades ago, such as during the anti-desegregation bussing riots of the mid-‘70s, has largely disappeared, racial injustice has manifested itself in other ways.  Chief among them has been how the city has gone about new development. Multiple neighborhoods have seen their communities completely altered by the introduction of new businesses and housing developments which are pricier than what the neighborhood is more used to.  Consequently, many long-time residents are slowly priced-out of the neighborhoods that they’ve built, and called home for decades.  Panelists had a vibrant discussion on the injustice inherent in this practice, and the potential for some high-impact litigation in coming years.

Dr. King’s legacy has had a deep impact on the efforts of each panelist – both personally and professionally.  Justice Hines spoke bluntly about how although no one can do everything, everyone should do something – participate in demonstrations, speak out against injustice, and make sure to vote whenever possible, since we all carry a personal responsibility to better society.  And, as attorneys specifically, Executive Director Espinoza-Madrigal emphasized the professional responsibility to carry these fights from the streets to the courts.  It’s crucial that lawyers don’t try and pick “winners” and pit marginalized groups against one another in the fight for equal recognition and access to resources, but rather continue to add seats to an ever-growing table.

The best way to honor the unparalleled legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., our distinguished panel seemed to agree, is to make sure that his legacy doesn’t exist only in abstraction, but rather in a way that keeps society moving forward along a path that is completely and unequivocally towards justice.