Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California: The Legacy of Black Leadership
When one recalls the lengthy history of boycotts, non-violent protests, and the racial prejudices experienced by the generations before us, where does one begin? For Pastor William D. Smart Jr., the impressions of this civil rights error shape his daily movements. Of course, without question, many may think of the noble Baptist minister and civil rights activist Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who propelled the Black voice, and the many trailblazers that cushioned the blows of the Civil Rights Era to achieve the social, economic, and political liberties of the Black American populace.
Yet, within this retrospection, we must acknowledge Dr. King’s mission to empower the forgotten and further empower others like him to lead. As a result of his determination and persistence, King became the co-founder of what we now know as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which continues to combat injustices in the streets! Despite the premature loss of Dr. King in 1968, his lingering impact and unwavering faith prove to have further nourished and developed a legacy of leaders for generations to come. Smart, an innovator, motivated by this blueprint, still serves his community today to live out the hopes and dreams of King!As the current president and CEO of the Southern California chapter, Smart Jr. shares his dedication to seeking, “...significant changes to America [and] pulling the community together.” As mentioned, his journey as a leader involves the influence of the Black progression and empowerment that was heavily rooted in Dr. King’s leadership. After getting his start in ministry, Smart quickly became sure of his need to “create a whole and beloved community,” hence his involvement with the National Director for African American Clergy (NAACP) and Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) as the Director of Training Outreach. Smart further elaborates upon the passions of his current role, exclaiming, “This is what I always wanted to do,” and continues, “This position is my calling, my mission, and the ministry that ensures that the right message is shared,” thus affirming his desires to speak up and push for the same change as King had boldly done during his time. From “voter education, employment enhancement, and economic empowerment,” found within the support and programming of SCLC-SC.
William continues to “...apply the principles of MLK…” that remain pivotal in eradicating systemic oppression. Such principles have proven to create and sustain a foundation not built upon violence, conflict, or hate but a base that instead calls for a spiritual, emotional, and mentally active stance against the social and governmental practices that have stripped Black Americans of justice, democracy, and ultimately of their humanity. By responding with peace and communion, we can begin to unveil the methods to effect change and persuade our opponents! Such a mission and assertions further align with the several events of SCLC-SC that commemorate not only the life of the King but also recognize those like Smart who strive to empower and elevate those who have persisted in experiencing the inhibitions of racial discrimination today.
More specifically, SCLC-SC intends to continue such acts of recognition and efforts with its upcoming event with special guest Senator Warnock! Like the trained leaders of SCLC, he also believes in the mission of Black accessibility, opportunity, and equity, hence why he is being asked to speak at the Seventh Annual MLK Community Labor Lunch-In to push this objective of Black reformation further. This event is not only meant to “pay homage to the sacrifices of Dr. King,” as Smart shares but also to “...acknowledge the work that [Warnock] has done around voting rights and the Black community, including many others that align themselves in this work.”
Today, Smart continues to attain the willingness and determination to “...lift up the marginalized and disenfranchised of Southern California” across racial groups, which then contextualizes the importance of SCLC to “galvanize programs together,” like the Black church and initiatives for the Latin and Indigenous community to support women and children, low-income families, those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and so on. Here we can fully conceptualize that the legacy of leaders remains strong and intentional in its efforts to fully embrace and adopt the same beliefs and ministry of Dr. King.
In addition to these observations, we also understand the significance of allyship and help from those beyond the community, similar to that of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s. Yet, these pioneers and forward thinkers prove to be the leaders, mentors, and guides of God that will persist in carrying on the legacy of Rev. Dr. King so that the lives of the future can have what our ancestors have longed desired - absolute freedom!