“Before any form of oppression will end, we need the indifferent to stop being inactive. We are in a time when our indifference is not insignificant.”
Sean Eversley Bradwell made indifference a key point in his speech at the annual Greater Ithaca Activities Center MLK Community Breakfast on Saturday. The auditorium of the Beverly J. Martin Elementary School was packed for the morning event. Bradwell is the director of programs and outreach at Ithaca College.
The breakfast, which has taken place annually for about three decades, is an “amazing way to bring the community together,” Crystal Sessoms, president of the GIAC board of directors, said.
“To get everyone in the same room at the same time, yes to gather for breakfast, but even more importantly to celebrate such a pioneer in the civil rights movement and history in general, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” Sessoms said.
Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, director of the Greater Ithaca Activities Center, said “We have to be the change we wish to see. We have to confront and resolve these problems together or we will never be able to realize the dream of Dr. King. At GIAC we are playing our part in helping to raise up a generation of leaders where children believe in human rights, human dignity and equality for all.”
McBean-Clairborne continued saying GIAC provides job training and mentorship for adults who are unemployed or under employed, works to address opportunity gaps facing boys and young men and women of color with the My Brother’s Keeper program and others.
The theme of this year’s breakfast was the Martin Luther King Jr. quote: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Bradwell spoke about King’s “juxtapositions.” He said King was “legendary for presenting dueling options — chaos or community, a people-oriented society versus a thing-oriented society, non-violent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.”
Bradwell said he wanted to focus on one juxtaposition — love versus hate. He said King wrote extensively about love, especially about “agape,” a love of humanity, as well as his ideas for a beloved community. However, he said he was not going to talk about the love side.
Listen to Sean Eversley Bradwell’s full speech from the GIAC MLK Community Breakfast
Quoting Elie Wiesel, he said “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”
While hate is evil, so is indifference, Bradwell said.
“Let us not just think justice prevails simply because we choose not to hate. We also have to choose against indifference. Let us not think justice prevails because we profess that it should, no matter how loud or articulate the message. Hate will do its work, justice needs to actively labor against that,” he said.
Democracy is a “contact sport,” Bradwell said. While it can work over technology, he said, but it is most lasting when people share spaces together, break bread, rub elbows, laugh and argue together.
Bradwell used a modified version of a quote made by Martin Luther King Jr. in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech: “I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the ‘isness’ of our present condition makes us morally incapable of reaching for the eternal ‘oughtness’ that forever confronts us.”
Bradwell said it’s hard to challenge King “isness” and “oughtness,” he said he wanted to draw a clear connection to indifference.
“Compassion, solidarity, kind-heartedness, these are some of the higher order ideas and part of the ‘oughtness’ being advocated by Dr. King, but compassion, solidarity and kindness — while essential — are insufficient. Simply thinking good thoughts or having a good heart is not a substitute for the work to build a better community. Wanting something or thinking something is necessary, but not enough to make any dream a reality. We need to keep reaching for the ‘oughtness’ be not mistaken, we need to talk about it, we need to debate the ‘oughtness.’ We may even need to form a committee or a listening group … but at some point in time we need to use the ‘oughtness’ to get down to the business of changing the ‘isness’ of our present condition,” Bradwell said.