Hooper: King breakfast speaker urges choosing community over chaos

The Rev. Otis Moss Jr. said Monday that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. left a foundation for others to build on.
The Rev. Otis Moss Jr. said Monday that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. left a foundation for others to build on.
Published Jan. 17, 2017

The Rev. Dr. Otis Moss Jr. stood on the dais at the Tampa Organization of Black Affairs' Martin Luther King Leadership Breakfast on Monday, holding a copy of King's book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?

In the book, autographed by his friend King, the civil rights leader wrote, "This may well be mankind's last chance to choose between chaos and community."

Fifty years later, those words strike me as even more prophetic than they were in 1967. As I examine our political discourse, our world views and our concern about the nation, those two extremes are emerging as our only choices.

And frankly, some seem more interested in chaos than community.

A Facebook friend boasts that he has forgotten more about politics than most people know, but he uses his knowledge only to excoriate President Barack Obama, even in his final days. The posts, some containing half-truths and misleading facts, invariably lead to insulting discourse and unyielding opinions.

And I always wonder why he doesn't choose to use his knowledge to promote a greater positive, to nurture hope instead of hate, optimism instead of angst.

You can argue the Constitution grants him freedom of speech, but I believe the Founding Fathers protected that right to make us a better nation, not simply to foster a divide and widen the nation's philosophical chasm.

Maybe those who believe in the president-elect can use their public platforms to try to calm the fears of those of us who are genuinely worried about what this new presidency may bring. Whether that argument will be accepted can be disputed, but the effort would involve choosing community instead of chaos.

King's words remain relevant, but how do we remain relevant? How do we channel our desire to help into something more meaningful than a social media rant? As former state Sen. Arthenia Joyner noted during the breakfast, we need to add, "do something" to the mantra of "see something, say something."

Moss told the audience of nearly 1,000 at the Hilton Tampa Downtown that King left more than a legacy, he left a foundation. And even now, that foundation means we have a challenge.

"Dr. King left us with an unfinished cathedral, and it's our responsibility to keep building," Moss said.

More than once, Moss, 82 and retired but still strong in voice, stressed the words "we" and "us." I took from that the need to find common ground, bridge divides and fight for social justice for every man and woman.

Of course, such lofty ideas get slapped down by the disrespectful, the people who revel in that chaos. They post memes that refer to President Obama's words with a photo of animal feces and compare his likeness to the hindside of a jackass. And then you await the memes that will show an equal lack of respect for Trump, and the toxic explanation, "But he really is a jackass."

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You conclude healthy debate will do no good and the weeds of despair begin to choke off all sense of hope.

But how can we examine the great sacrifices of slaves, of persecuted immigrants, of the civil rights movement, and relinquish the responsibility to build on that cathedral King carved out with blood, sweat and tears.

"If our ancestors kept singing, through danger and toil, don't let nobody turn you around," Moss said.

The answer lies in moving away from those Facebook disputes and challenging ourselves and one other to do more for our youth, for our young professionals, for the downtrodden.

For each other.

In the end, Moss asked everyone in the audience to look at their hands and make a pledge: "These are the hands of God. The dream is in my hands."

As he noted, the question is not what would Dr. King do if he were alive today, it's what am I doing because I am alive today?

The answer deserves a response full of energy and effort, dedication and determination, hope and pride.

That's all I'm saying.