Students, staff, and faculty alike learned of the dire need for civilized, respectful conversation during a post-screening discussion on the new documentary “King in the Wilderness” on Feb. 12.
The film, about the last three years of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, focused on Dr. King’s challenges when moving his civil rights movement up North into Chicago, mitigating his movement of nonviolence with the ongoing Vietnam War, and working on the foundation of The Poor People’s Campaign.
However, the documentary also focused on the differences in views between King and fellow activists of the time, namely Stokely Carmichael, who did not feel as strongly about Dr. King’s message of nonviolent resistance; this aspect of the film resonated heavily during the post-screening discussion, hosted by Dr. Rafik Mohamed, Dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.
“The film showed that people like King and Carmichael were not diametrically opposed,” Mohamed said. “They have different approaches on how to get to the same place, but neither is dismissive of the other.”
Despite the film touching on many different points of King’s life and aspects of the civil rights movement, the theme of civilized discussion was one that the audience engaged with.
[su_quote cite=”Dr. Rafik Mohamed”]We don’t communicate with each other anymore, as a country, we just yell at each other.[/su_quote]
Throughout the film, the audience saw King express his desire for people to join forces to work towards a better future.
“We have assembled here together today with common problems, bringing together ethnic groups that maybe have not been in a meeting like this in the past,” King said in a speech before a march for poor people in 1968. “It has been one of my dreams that we would come together and realize our common problems.”
The audience learned that there were a number of sides and perspectives to the Civil Rights Movements.
“We are often taught about civil rights as this monolithic thing,” Mohamed said, “but this film shows that the civil rights movement was multifaceted.”
King and Carmichael made for a good example of people who disagree with each other on a principle level but could still communicate with each other respectfully.
However, this type of discourse is not as common among people with different views in the present time, as Rob Madrigal, Marketing, Communications, and Outreach for the John M. Pfau Library, explains.
“With social media, we are now so isolated with people who have similar views,” Madrigal said.
Both him and Mohamed spoke on how social media and the internet create echo chambers for people where only their own beliefs are reinforced and outside thoughts are shunned.
“We tend to isolate ourselves more and more into communities of choice,” Mohamed said, “I walk around these halls all the time and I’m astonished to see how many people here, in a public place with 20,000 people, are not paying attention to a single soul except what’s in their hand.”
Madrigal was the one who chose the film to be screened at the school, both because of its timeliness with Black History Month but also in hopes it would speak to the audience.
“I would just hope that they would be more inspired and engage with others of different views,” Madrigal said.
Mohamed closed off the discussion by telling a story of one of his most disappointing experiences at CSUSB.
After the election of Trump, he happened to stumble upon a verbal altercation between anti-Trump protestors and someone annoyed by them.
Mohamed diffused the situation, and once he did he talked with them about a more constructive way for the protestors to handle the situation: he proposed an event on campus where people of different views come together and discuss this.
The protestors told Mohamed to screw off (put politely) and carried about on their way.
[su_quote cite=”Dr. Rafik Mohamed”]If we can’t get people to have a civilized conversation about something, in terms of the soul of this country, if we can’t put that above our own personal frustration, what do we do?[/su_quote]
However, this is not to say that the situation is hopeless; Mohamed notes that he is seeing positive change leading in the right direction.
“I do think there is a lot of change and a lot of hope, and I am heartened now by the level of interest people have, across the board, in what’s going on in our country,” Mohamed said. “But the next step is ensuring that people don’t just take the Twitter soundbite as fact, actually do their homework, engage with each other and find out what the common cause is.”