Special Issue: Introduction

For a dozen years Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Studies has sparkled as a jewel in the crown of UIU’s Interdisciplinary Ph.D. Program—a beacon of our commitment to social justice, human rights, and the health of our “world house.” So it is fitting that MLK Legacy Studies has produced this special issue of Penumbra to display scholarly work by two recent MLK Studies alums, three current students, and a faculty member. We want to express our appreciation to Panella, Kristen McNutt, and their co-editors for initiating this project and editing the articles.

Dr. Linda Kligman (UIU Ph.D. 2020) starts us out with “Engaging for Positive Peace.” An experienced leader in the field of Restorative Practices, Dr. Kligman was largely responsible for bringing Restorative Practices (aka Restorative Justice) into the curriculum of our Ethical & Creative Leadership (ECL) concentration. Her article tells the tale of three notable civil rights leaders, Anna Arnold Hedgeman, Ella Baker, and Dorothy Cotton, and how they employed storytelling and participatory learning to empower African Americans, especially women, to engage in the Black freedom movement; and how their work prefigured Restorative Practices that first emerged in the 1970s.

Rev. Lester McCorn, longtime justice activist, AME Zion minister, and president of Clinton College in Rock Hill, South Carolina, sets the record straight about Dr. King’s commitment to transforming racial capitalism into a democratic socialist society dedicated both to racial and economic justice. In “A Vision of the Promised Land: The Enduring Legacy of MLK’s Grassroots Campaign for Economic Justice,” he suggests that Black Lives Matter and other current movements do not fully understand MLK’s legacy and have much to learn from the revolutionary MLK.

Terae Soumah practices social justice leadership as a Ph.D. student at UIU and in her adopted homeland of Congo, where she works as an educator and artist. In “Youth Movements Tackle ‘Big Man’ Leadership in the Democratic Republic of Congo” she writes about Congolese youth movements that played a decisive role in achieving Congo’s first free and fair presidential election in 2018, stressing the movements’ success in forming alliances.

Rev. Dr. Antoni Sinkfield (UIU Ph.D. 2020), a prominent pastor in the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), senior minister of Payne Chapel AME Church in Nashville, writes in “Nashville Organized for Action and Hope: A Representation of the Beloved Community” about an extraordinary citywide alliance for social justice that he co-founded and helps lead. Rev. Dr. Sinkfield ascribes NOAH’s success to their broad civic alliance and their distinctive listening sessions (both intra- and inter-organizational) that prioritize one-to-one conversations at all levels.

Rev. Gerald Young, a seasoned Baptist preacher, prolific author, and university enrollment manager, has devoted his life to fostering “college behind bars,” prison education for disadvantaged inmates, and has already helped implement several such programs, including at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). His article, “Leadership in Prison Educational Programs at HBCUs” aims at persuading higher education leaders to initiate “college behind bars” through their schools, specifying the reasons, rationales, and the required steps to make it happen.

Finally, in “Reimagining American Democracy: Community not Chaos,” I offer a strategic vision of how grassroots democracy can be organized through movement alliances and federations into an alternative to our dominant system of electoral-representative democracy, aimed not at replacing but transforming and democratizing the dominant system. A longtime nonviolent activist and historian of the Black freedom movement, I chair the ECL concentration and teach in MLK Legacy Studies.

Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Studies is currently going through a process of rethinking, “reinventing,” and long-term planning, with vital student involvement. We hope that Ph.D. students interested in joining us, or finding out more, will contact our distinguished Coordinator, Dr. Michael Simanga (Michael.Simanga@myunion.edu), who also teaches in Public Policy & Social Change.