Conference Keynote - Shaun King
Today, there are crucial conversations rippling across North America—conversations happening on social media, on campuses, in the streets and around dinner tables. In greater numbers, people are talking about real empowerment and liberation for historically disadvantaged groups. When it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement, they’re talking specifically about human dignity for African Americans. And for this movement, journalist, humanitarian, and activist Shaun King, a columnist for The Intercept and the Writer-In-Residence at Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project, is amongst the most compelling voices: a humane and passionate advocate for justice and families, and an extremely visible fundraiser for victims of brutality and discrimination.
Sometimes people wonder who they might be, and what role they might play, if they were alive during the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s. Mass marches. Signs reading “I AM A MAN.” Fire hoses, police dogs, and bloody batons. Distant history, but not as removed as we might think: just this past year Shaun bravely spearheaded the efforts to identify and arrest violent white supremacists who brutally attacked men and women in Charlottesville, Virginia. His dogged efforts single-handedly led to more arrests of Neo-Nazis there than that of the FBI or State Police.
Leaders like Shaun King help us see how racism is not dead and forgotten, but merely a mutating virus, and one that manifests in different forms in every age. Racism, mass incarceration, policies that criminalize blackness in the twenty-first century—these problems won’t solve themselves. And that’s why King’s voice, perspective, and work are so important.
As a magnetic element of the Black Lives Matter movement, King helps us see our present place in the larger current of American history. He’s adopted social media to rally and unite people of disparate backgrounds and has now become one of the most followed activists in the world. He uses his platform as a journalist, now for Harvard and The Intercept, and formerly as The Senior Justice Writer at the New York Daily News, to unearth the truth beyond local media, and to organize us all in purposeful and directed ways. Moreover, he reminds us that we can take whatever we do best—whether we lobby, speak, litigate, protest, write, or more—and tilt that practice toward justice.
As a speaker, Shaun King offers an articulate and historically grounded take on the most pressing problems of the day. He has now spoken in 35 states, on over 100 college campuses, in jails and prisons, and in corporate boardrooms – always calling for us to be better and do better. As a writer, he has written an astounding 1,500 articles on injustice since 2014 and gives morning commentary on the legendary Tom Joyner Morning Show heard by 6 million listeners in over 100 cities.
Shaun might be new to many of us, but he has been on this path his whole life. In 1999, Shaun became the youngest Student Government President elected at Morehouse College since Dr. King was a student there in 1947. Before he was ever known nationally, Shaun was a popular high school history and civics teacher in Atlanta, then a traveling teacher and counselor at a dozen different jails, prisons, and youth detention centers in Georgia –speaking and teaching 5 times a day, 5 days a week, for years. Shaun started and pastored a church in inner city Atlanta and launched several award-winning social good campaigns that raised millions of dollars for causes around the world.
Shaun is now based out of Brooklyn, New York, is married to his high school sweetheart, and is the father of five children - four girls and a boy - ranging in age from pre-school to high school. Making the world a better place for them is his daily motivation.
Indeed, this generation has its own challenges—challenges for which we need real and applicable solutions. Instead of wondering who we’d be and what we’d do if we were alive in the 60s—or assuming progress will just march along, without our help—King asks us to see our present place in the modern movement for a more equitable world. If every generation operates on a set of principles, then we need to judge our own by looking, clearly and without rose-colored glasses, on the values we live by. As King argues, it’s not enough to be just a little bit better. In fact, that’s never been enough. We must each ask ourselves, "what's my best contribution to this world today?"