The Intergenerational Conversation Series: Jamilah Lemieux with Dr. Clarence B. Jones

To mark Black History Month: A Century of Black Life, History and Culture, The AGF explores today’s Movement for Black Lives in a series of posts from Hero Citizens within our community and beyond. The third installment in the series (see the second here) is a recap of our first Intergenerational Conversation.

The Andrew Goodman Foundation presented the Intergenerational Conversation, a live chat between social justice and impact leaders from the Civil Rights generation to today on our Facebook page on Wednesday, 2.18. The Conversation featured Dr. Clarence B. Jones who worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  as a speechwriter and personal counsel, with Jamilah Lemieux, a Writer, Editor and Activist based in NYC. Below is a transcript of the conversation, including questions and comments from the audience, reorganized and lightly edited for comprehension.

Jamilah Lemieux: Dr. Jones, how does it feel to see leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, such Dr. King and yourself, remembered as heroes today, when you were vilified by so many Americans during the Movement?

Dr. Clarence B. Jones: Jamilah, I’m deeply honored, Dr. King is the real hero, however.

Delia Montalvo Moyles: Dr. Jones, what may we ask you is Equal Justice, without Equal Access to our Rights? Do you see hope for our broken legal system?

Erin Capone: Delia, while we’re waiting for the chat to start, what are your thoughts for our legal system?

Delia Montalvo Moyles: Thanks Erin, Unfortunately the color of Justice is Not Black or White, it is Green. You have about as much justice as you can afford. Better to be rich and guilty than poor or even middle income and innocent.

Erin Capone: That’s a good point. I know in his book “Behind the Dream”, Dr. Jones talks about the importance of wealth in advancing social justice. I think he’ll have some great thoughts on that front.

Erin Capone: I’ll add access to quality health care, food/nutrition, and living environments to the list of things that you need wealth for.

Dr. Clarence B. Jones:  Delia, without access, rights are meaningless; there is hope for our broken legal system if persons like you and others insist that it really provides equal opportunity for justice for all.

Delia Montalvo Moyles: Thank you Dr. Jones, and definitely people like you spreading awareness to solutions and organizations such as this one. I didn’t know about Andrew Goodman Foundation until you invited me tonight. Appreciate all you have done and continue to do as a servant leader.

Dr. Clarence B. Jones:  Erin, wealth is only important if it’s shared by many, rather than just a few. And that it’s not a qualifying condition for participation in a movement for social justice.

Jamilah Lemieux: Dr. Jones, what is the greatest lesson young activists can take from the work of the Civil Rights Movement?

Dr. Clarence B. Jones:  Jamilah, the greatest thing young activists can do is to have an irrevocable commitment to nonviolence and organizational discipline to protect themselves from third parties who want to use their movement for other purposes (i.e. anarchists who want to wrap themselves in the legitimacy of the movement.)

Dr. Clarence B. Jones: Jamilah, what, in your opinion, is the best form of contribution that civil rights leaders can provide to your generation (you and your colleagues)?

Jamilah Lemieux: Dr. Jones, I would like to see older leaders challenge themselves to listen to young activists and thought leaders with an open heart, and to understand that my generation speaks differently, dresses differently and operates quite differently—and that those are not bad things! I think most civil rights leaders have done that, but some seem overly concerned with maintaining their status and uninterested in grooming successors.

Jamilah Lemieux: Dr. Jones, what say you of the public tension between some of the older and younger activists who have been active in the recent anti-police brutality movements? How can we bridge generational gaps and work together?

Dr. Clarence B. Jones:  Jamilah, the older generation can only respond to the younger generation of activists, if they have enough sense and respect to really listen to what the younger generation is saying. And secondly, is to acknowledge, that different times will evolve different protests and different cultural manifestations of those protestations. What we sang in 1960s might be different than what folks sing to them. We (older generations) have to have respect for the new forms and manifestations. ..These are our children and grandchildren, we have to shower them with love and respect. Our job as elders, is first of all to protect them and share our wisdom.

Dr. Clarence B. Jones:  Jamilah, I agree with every single thing you just said. You make the point better than I did. I fully support you.

Jamilah Lemieux: Dr. Jones, that is very kind, thank you!

Jamilah Lemieux: Dr. Jones, if Dr. King could see us today–all of us, the world as it stands in 2015–what do you think he would say?

Dr. Clarence B. Jones: Jamilah, there needs to be “come to jesus” moment for the elders and the young leaders; I believe that to be the next phase of today’s Movement. The elders ought to respect the youngers, try to provide them as much leadership and support as possible, provided that the movement stays non-violent. The elders should have just one condition: non-violence. What you speak, what you wear – different strokes for different times and shouldn’t matter.

Delia Montalvo Moyles: I’m middle generation and just my 2 cents. Everyone should be responsible for their own actions and participating in their own rescue. (with exception of those suffering from mental or physical illness) I feel the older generation has set a supreme example for all generations. Goes back to basics of loving one another and not judging one another.

Dr. Clarence B. Jones:  Jamilah, he [Dr. King] would say, joint coalition action by all of us today, is the only way in which his Dream is going to be fulfilled.

Erin Capone: How did civil rights leaders bridge the generation gap in the past? What is the common table that we can all sit at and start the dialogue?

Dr. Clarence B. Jones:  Jamilah, Dr. King would also be concerned about the police excessive use of force. Though, I think he would also be concerned with young black men and the use of guns. All of our young men should look in the mirror everyday and say, we’re too beautiful to kill one another.

Dr. Clarence B. Jones:  Delia, I’d like to reserve my right to judge the younger generation if they are pursuing a path of self-destruction – violence. There is some accumulated wisdom. I recommend, “The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict: Why Civil Resistance Works” – by Erica Chenowith and Maria Stephen

Jamilah Lemieux: I’m so honored to have had this time to chat with you Dr. Clarence B. Jones! I know that Erin Capone had a question and I also wonder if anyone else was interested in posing one who hadn’t yet?

Dr. Clarence B. Jones: Young people shouldn’t underestimate the degree to which they are inspiring their peers and the older generations. For the older generations, it’s making them wake up and see that our young people need us. Dr. King would adopt the young people as if they were his own grandchildren; he’d give them the benefit of his wisdom and his love. You have to love the people you serve; service to others is the moral rent we pay for the space we occupy on earth.

Jamilah Lemieux: Dr. Jones, Ok, I have one more! Are you surprised to see the recent increase in activism among young people?

Dr. Clarence B. Jones:  Erin, Civil Rights leaders in the past were not always successful in bridging the leadership of the SNCC and older organizations like the clergy. The older generations did have love but did carry, initially, an attitude of “Fathers Knows Best” – and in that generation, clergymen carried a great deal of weight. But over time, older leaders did develop great respect. The young people, said “we respect your sense of protection for us but we’d also like to speak for ourselves.” But the Civil Rights movement cannot have been successful without out coalitions, students, young people and older people, white people (particularly Jews)

Dr. Clarence B. Jones:  Jamilah, yes, I am. I’m surprised and pleased.

Erin Capone: Dr. Jones, I recently finished reading “Behind the Dream” and I just want to tell you that I thought it was wonderful. It made something that always seemed mythical/historic seem real, tangible. I think that (and other pieces like it) are important for younger generations to read so that they can envision themselves in these leadership roles and as change agents.

Delia Montalvo Moyles: I know time is up, just wanted to express gratitude for this venue and honored to share and learn with the best.

Jamilah Lemieux: Thank you so much to The Andrew Goodman Foundation for having me and Dr. Clarence B. Jones for sharing this space! I really appreciate everyone who participated!