On Friday, the panel of influencers seated at Chevrolet's Table of Brotherhood Project in Washington, D.C., addressed controversial topics that spanned from tolerance to chronic unemployment.
These conversations at the Table of Brotherhood symbolized the unity Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. worked for, and more important, a cross-cultural awakening and call to action to better the condition of the human race.
Chevrolet presented the four-city tour of the Table of Brotherhood Project that stopped in Atlanta, Memphis, Chicago, and culminated in Washington D.C. over the weekend.
The packed house at D.C.'s Convention Center confirmed the urgent need to conduct this public forum, even with the threat of Hurricane Irene lapping at the event's door (as she had claimed Sunday's unveiling of the Martin Luther King Memorial).
There were revealing moments on the panel, and in follow-up conversations with the panelists.
Ray Baker, talk radio host on WHUR 96.3 Washington, said that he offered a unique perspective as a successful Black male, from a two-parent household, who still confronted adversity during his formative years.
"Being at the Table of Brotherhood means that I've been selected to represent a group of people who sometimes aren't always heard; young African-American men from the inner city who have two parents and who grew up in their own home," Baker said.
"I had to face the realities of growing up in the inner city; at 10 years old, I had a friend who was shot in the mouth and we called him Superman because only Superman could survive bullets. Unfortunately before his 21st birthday, he was shot and killed. [Conversely], I grew up and played Little League baseball, and my dad is still my best friend. I lived a nuanced life, one that is unique to 21st-century America."
Actor Laz Alonso divulged that although his Cuban mother did not speak English well, she supported Dr. King because she "had a voice" in the civil rights movement.
Alonso added that as a child, he wondered what Dr. King's dream meant for him.
"As a child, I remember growing up hearing the 'I Have a Dream Speech,' by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and always thinking what that dream actually meant to my life, my family's life, my immediate pocket of my neighborhood," Alonso says. "How I could participate and make that dream a reality? [The Table of Brotherhood Project] is a great dialogue, something that I wished I had growing up, because it's something that really teaches us where we are, where we came from, and what we can do to continue to make the dream happen, to make the dream a reality."
Alonso indicates that change is happening now and, as an actor, he has a responsibility to keep the momentum.
"We've come a long way, personally, I've seen Hollywood change and improve. This depiction of African Americans has extended to many different characters, and we still have a long way to go. Being a responsible artist and portraying positive images, it's my responsibility to make that dream something that children can watch my movies and say, 'I want to be like that guy.'"
Media maven Arianna Huffington encouraged the audience to open their eyes to the plight of those around them.
"There are 25 million unemployed or underemployed and I hope that this celebration will create that sense of urgency," Huffington said. "How can we bring that sense of urgency to what is needed?"
Change at the government level is sorely needed, Rev. Jesse L. Jackson said.
"The issue of poverty is real," Rev. Jackson said. "Sometimes, they [the disenfranchised] would get five meals a week; in jail, they would get 21 meals a week. For them, jail is a step up."
A common agenda is key, says Debra Lee of BET. "As this world changes, and as young people (and a little older than young people) change, we have to keep trying. We have to understand what the public policy is, and what we're trying to change, and what we're trying to accomplish."
Eric Peterson, U.S. Vice President of Diversity for General Motors, said Martin Luther King Jr. would appreciate the effort and mission of the Table of Brotherhood Project.
"If Dr. King was alive he would be very appreciative of us taking the time to bring a diverse group of influencers of people to sit down and talk about the common issues," Peterson said.
"It's a humbling experience to be here and talk about the issues of the day, to talk about common issues for all of us -- not just African American issues, or Latino issues -- but common issues that we all face regardless of what walk of life that we come from."
Kevin Williams, President and Managing Director of General Motors of Canada, agreed, and noted, "The dream is yet to be realized, but we're on our way. The openness and the dialogue are going to allow us to make it all the way through to the end of that dream."
This post has been updated to reflect Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. attended the event.