Woke up, America

Ron Jones,  an  Emmy-award-winning stage actor and founder of Dialogues On Diversity, a social justice-based theater company, gave a lecture on Oct. 17 in the Forum as part of his cross-country tour of “MLK and the Strength of Shared Dreams.”

“MLK and the Strength of Shared Dreams” is a presentation combining the use of music, acting, and history to tell the story of African Americans in the time of Martin Luther King Jr.’s rise in leadership during the Civil Rights Movement from 1954 to 1968.

“This is the story of two men. One you know, the other you don’t,” said Jones as he introduced the presentation to the audience.

Jones made use of his award-winning acting skills, after a quick costume change, to portray the role of a man named “William,” an “everyman” as he described him, to tell the story of how the Civil Rights Movement progressed in America.

The first acting-oriented segment, “Woke,” featured William holding a “baby” wrapped in a white cloth as a clip of former President Lyndon B. Johnson giving a speech played behind them on a projector. After Johnson’s speech concluded, William delivered a speech of his own to the baby in his arms.

“That man just guaranteed you the most important thing a person can have … a voice.”

Jones talked to the audience about the concept and history of being “woke,” taking acknowledging of the term’s contemporary use.

“MLK actually used that term to great effect!”

To further emphasize the connections between this term’s past and present usages, Jones told the history of Rip Van Winkle, a story that’s no longer taught in schools across America due to its racist themes involving African Americans, showcasing how being “woke” can change society, even in small ways.

Jones referenced a quote from King to reinforce his message, saying, “There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution.”

The second segment of the presentation, “American Woke – William’s Story Part II,” is an expanded version of the concepts found in “Woke,” with William, suitcase in hand, portraying a more working-class version of himself.

This segment also contained a monologue by William, talking about how vital the Civil Rights Movement was, not only to African Americans, but to other underrepresented individuals and white people – the “good white people,” if you will – with William making note of how “so many folks need us to not fail.”

Music also played a major role in establishing the time period on top of the realism of William’s struggle. Jones played two popular songs from the late ’60s, “Dance To The Music” and “Everyday People” by Sly & the Family Stone, released in 1968 and 1969, respectively. These two songs historically, provided comfort to people from underrepresented backgrounds at the end of the Civil Rights Movement.

A primary focus of Jones’ presentation was his explanation of King’s work during the Poor People’s Campaign, explaining how that campaign, one that involved the work of many people from different backgrounds, in itself, was “American Woke.”

“Sadly, [MLK] was taken before he could see the results,” Jones said. The Poor People’s Campaign “never got the traction that it needed.”

Jones made comparisons of how King’s work can translate into the contemporary sphere, with one of the big topics being police brutality and how the police system can be “fixed.” Jones said, “Police training is abysmal! … I want impeccable cops, good cops … but they’ll only get the training they need if they had money for higher quality lessons.”

In the outro for the presentation, a clip of William played on the projector, showing him talk about his memories of the Civil Rights Movement, 40 years later.

Referring to people-led movements, William advised the audience, “You can’t do it alone. You got to bring everybody.”