The MLK Day Brotherhood Awards are NewsOne’s annual celebration of five important Americans who are continuing the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. — especially in the realm of interpersonal, cross-racial, and cross-ethnic understanding.
Our honorees are the bridge builders and the nation healers.
CHECK FOR MORE HONOREES AS THEY ARE REVEALED BEFORE MLK DAY HERE.
Name: Ivory Toldson, PhD
City of Residence: Washington, D.C.
Occupation: Associate professor at Howard University School of Education, senior research analyst for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, and the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Negro Education
His Work: As a professor, Dr. Toldson publishes reports that directly challenge the negative statistics of Black America, with a particular focus on the Black male. To Dr. Toldson, we are “living examples of every positive outcome we desire.”
On His Brotherly Walk With Dr. King:
Throughout my life, brotherly love has helped me to remain steadfast and resolute about improving the conditions of black men, despite the negative portrayals of black men in the media. It surprises no one that the black male prison population is larger today than at any point in history. However, few people know that the black male college population is also larger today than at any point in history. In addition, the rate increase in college enrollment has expanded for black males over the last 10 years, while the rate increase in incarceration for black males has decreased.
As an educational researcher, instead of looking at the achievement gap between Black and White students, I’d rather look at the academic experiences of high-achieving Black students, particularly those from poor neighborhoods. Instead of looking at how many Black males with disabilities end up in special education, I’d rather look at how many of them end up in honors classes (about 12 percent). We have over analyzed Black problems when we have living examples of every positive outcome we desire. It’s time for Black America to dial down the “crisis” mantra, and lift every voice to a more positive and accurate reflection of our journey. This is not to deny the problems facing the black community, but no people can fix their problems without recognizing their assets.
On His Inspiration:
Most of my work has been inspired by an inmate who lived on the unit in which I worked as a psychology intern 10 years ago. As if he rehearsed his lines for days and had been building up the nerve to express his point, he marched into my office, sat on the seat before me and said:
I see you walking in here every day, wearing a suit with your briefcase, looking like you’ve
done something with yourself. When I was growing up, I never saw anyone look like you in my neighborhood – a young Black man with a profession. When I was growing up, all I saw was hustlers and dealers and drug fiends. Maybe if I saw you back then, I wouldn’t be here today. So, what I really came here to tell you is, Talk to the kids!
Enamored with the line “talk to the kids,” I repeat it often in public speeches. However, I am not naive to the fact that the Black community needs much more. As an optimist, I believe many problems will be corrected through the universal potential of Black empowerment and the undaunted spirit of a community responding to oppression – admittedly, every day I wonder what that will actually look like.
I’m inspired by the Black male 11th grader who said, ‘Being a young Black male is a blessing that people have tried to make a curse.” But for God’s grace, a lame shot, and the dogged will of my maternal grandfather, I might not exist as I do today. The white fascist, who shot my grandfather after he became the first Black man to vote in North Louisiana, tried to kill him, his legacy, and his lineage. But the racists failed. He triumphed and went on to raise my mother, who grew up to
be a champion for Black reparations. My mother passed the legacy on to me, so in a sense, Black empowerment is my birthright.
On How We Continue The Work Of MLK:
We must continue to fight for educational equity and social justice with faith and conviction, rather than pessimism and ambivalence. We need to work to bring about policies that reduce racial disparities in income and incarceration, and increases equity and inclusion in education. We also need to promote positive parenting practices and provide safety nets for children being reared in impoverished or inadequate family structures.
Most of all, we need to change our tone and tenor of our dialogue about the state of Black America. Martin Luther King did not denigrate or dispirit Black people as a “wake-up” call. He plotted the path to liberty and instilled hope, faith, and tenacity, while rebuking systemic injustices. We need to understand and harness our legacy of greatness. Understand that we have no problem today, which is worse than the problems of yesterday, or beyond our capacity to resolve for tomorrow.
His Favorite MLK Quote:
On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” And Vanity comes along and asks the question, “Is it popular?” But Conscience asks the question “Is it right?”
- MLK, “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution” (31 March 1968)