Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Is MLK's SCLC On Verge Of Extinction???

Southern Christian Leadership Conference Event Draws Dismay
Local Chapter Unhappy Over Planning, Focus
By Staff Reports

Sunday, August 2, 2009

With the choir going full blast, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference opened its 51st annual convention on a joyful note Saturday.

But as the crowd filed out of the Greater Mt. Moriah Baptist Church in South Memphis, not everyone was smiling.

Several members of the local SCLC chapter said they were disgruntled with the planning process and the focus of this year's event.

Linda Williams, 54, was just one member of the SCLC Memphis chapter who said the national organization had shut them out of the planning process.

"I think we are the hosting city, and we should have had a voice in the process," she said. "We did not have a voice."

The local chapter planned the convention, originally deciding to have the opening ceremony at The Peabody. But once the national organizers arrived in town, they decided to move the meeting elsewhere, she said.

"I guess that's what the national does," she said. "Some people have a take-over spirit."

The Atlanta-based civil-rights organization chose Memphis as the site of this year's convention as part of an effort to revitalize the "Poor People's Campaign" started by its founder, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated here in 1968. The conference continues through Wednesday.

The last time the SCLC met in Memphis was in 2003, when the group chose the city partly for its historic importance to the civil-rights movement, said then-president Martin Luther King III. That convention, like this one, targeted young people.

The organization was recently torn internally after several Florida chapters left in July to form a new group and after the Los Angeles chapter president lost his job for supporting gay marriage.

Interim SCLC president Byron Clay said he understood why some people were upset, but that the focus should remain on God.

"People may have a temporary frustration when they don't have a hand in things," he said. "But it's all to the glory of God."

In addition to Clay, several well-known public figures spoke Saturday, including keynote speaker William Shaw of the National Baptist Convention, local SCLC chapter president Dwight Montgomery and Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton, among others.

Memphis Mayor Pro Tem Myron Lowery and University of Memphis basketball coach Josh Pastner also attended.

Several young members and attendees were also disappointed the convention's focus wasn't aimed more at young people.

"I won't lie to you: I slept through the whole service," said 20-year-old Mario Johnson, who attends Annesdale Cherokee Baptist Church, where Montgomery pastors.

Johnson, who admitted he was not a "church person," said the speakers failed to captivate his interest.

"All I can do is respect the movement," he said.

Director of Christian education at the church, 57-year-old Teresa Hill Mays said she is afraid young people will forget their heritage.

"Young people tend to think the organization is passé because they don't realize all that the organization has accomplished over the years," she said. "It's important to pass the word on to our young."

Local chapter member Orlando Farmer, 40, said 100 college students had been ready to help out at the event, but they were told by national organizers that they weren't needed.

"We need to re-energize our base," he said. "It's time to get some new blood in there."

Although the organization did need young people, Clay said, the convention should remain focused: "The center is God, not old or young people."

-- Ryan Poe: 901-529-2623

© 2009 Scripps Newspaper Group

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