American blacks must recognize the progress they have made even while they continue to struggle for justice, the Rev. Benjamin L. Hooks told a crowd of about 100 yesterday at Anne Arundel Community College.
"You can kill the dreamer, but you can't kill the dream," Dr. Hooks said in an address marking the 26th anniversary of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The former executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People spoke at the Pascal Center for the Performing Arts before a crowd that interrupted his speech with applause several times and honored him with a standing ovation.
Dr. Hooks, 69, a Baptist minister, teaches at Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., and works with the investment banking firm Chapman Co. in Memphis, Tenn.
He spoke at the invitation of the Student Association and the Black Student Union, as part of the college's month-long celebration of diversity.
"The only way we can kill the dream is for folk like you and me at this college to become closed, indifferent, complacent, mean and prejudiced," he said.
"We've got to throw out of our minds all this business about hating white folk because they're white. We've got to stop talking about who we hate, and start trying to work with folk who want to work together," he told his black listeners, about half the audience.
While condemning anti-white and anti-Semitic rhetoric, he urged whites in the audience to let go of fear and work for justice.
In response to questions, he said he had no simple explanation for increasing black-on-black violence. If it were only the lack of economic opportunity, he said, in the old days, all blacks would have been in jail.
"The time has come for young black men and young black women to rise up and take possession of their own lives," he said.
Dr. Hooks told the crowd that it is possible to make change without grabbing headlines.
The NAACP, for example, is "like a good steady mule" that "just kept treading along."
"The work of the world is done by a few people," he said. "A handful of people who want to do something can be a persistent, steady force. . . . Don't worry about the majority."
Younger blacks, he said, may not appreciate the progress that has been made.
"Don't tell me we have not made a great deal of progress," Dr. Hooks said. "We have made a marvelous, amazing progress."
When he was a boy, there was only one black mayor in the United States. Now, there are more than 500. Black mayors have served in several major cities.
He said blacks should not scorn the ballot box, which he called their strongest weapon, because "it cost too much" to get the right to vote.
In 1972, when Dr. Hooks became the first black on the Federal Communications Commission, America had no black-owned TV stations. Only 17 out of more than 7,000 radio stations were TC owned by blacks. Today, blacks own 15 television stations and more than 300 radio stations.
"We have to take credit for the achievements we have made," Dr. Hooks said.
Queen Ayacodobae Ramkissoon, who teaches GED courses at the Aris T. Allen Learning Center in Annapolis, listened appreciatively.
"Upgrading the status of where black people are in America is what he did," she said. "All our people are not in jail. . . . He [Dr. Hooks] came to say some very positive things, and they needed to hear that."