kevin_mcdonald_web.jpgWEST PALM BEACH — Some in the audience that heard Jeff Johnson deliver the keynote address for Palm Beach State College’s annual Martin Luther King Breakfast already are working on bringing him again to speak to South Florida’s young people.

“I was very moved, hearing his ability to speak,” said Cheryl Blackman, a mental health counselor, following Johnson’s Jan. 12 talk at the Duncan Theater on PBSC’s main campus in Lake Worth.

“I like that he told the truth unapologetically,” said Blackman, who observed that Johnson apparently used no notes in engaging hundreds of students, staff and community members in attendance. His talk also was simulcast on the Internet to PBSC’s other campuses.

Kevin McDonald, an English teacher at Royal Palm Beach High School, said “He really brought a right now message that I hope will inspire students to really reach for their potential, to work harder and smarter to be successful.” McDonald, who brought 85 Royal Palm students to the event, added, “It is really important for them to come hear Jeff, and hopefully his words will cause a change.”

Paraphrased here are some of the comments by Johnson — who is White House correspondent for, commentator on the nationally syndicated Tom Joyner Morning Show, national director of the NAACP’s Youth & College division and vice president of the Russell Simmons Hip Hop Summit Action Network:

We’re entering what I like to call “The Season of Blackness” in America.

Are you prepared to dream dreams that don’t make sense?…That’s what Martin Luther King did…In this day and time we dream comfortable dreams…that move us nowhere…and we wonder why we move nowhere.

We are so focused on diversity that we have not focused on community…

Rather than blending cultures as if they all have the same history, we need dialogue that challenges our ignorance.

We need dreams where our youngsters won’t just pass standardized tests, but actually master (the material on the test).

We need to move beyond the mantra of survival to a mantra of building growth…In order for us to do that we have got to stop dreaming his dream…You don’t want to dream the same dream in 2012 as you dreamed in 2010.  You don’t even want to drive the same car.

I am so tired of hearing the “I Have a Dream” speech….(MLK) was too prophetic…He wouldn’t be dreaming the same dream he dreamed in 1965…(Too many leaders) are moving people emotionally to a place of euphoric inactivity…Moving people with (MLK’s) voice because you can’t inspire them with your own…Why do I want to follow you with your down-the-street-vision when you’re walking and I’ve got a car?

In 2011 we were in an uncomfortable position that we got comfortable in…Our leaders and institutions are now comfortably in discomfort…Action means doing something, moving…The acts that (our misguided youths) do reflected the actions that we fail to do…King understood faith comments as prophetic — what God already put in them, not what God was going to send.

Your action is your service.  Are you willing to be bold in your actions, with service that is meaningful? Our service is not about our titles or our positions, but a byproduct of our actions which is a reflection of our dreams…For our service to become relevant, (the) product of real service is transformation.

Stop playing with King’s memory. Better yet, stop playing with your parents’, your grandparents’, your great-grandparents’ memory.

Some people forget that King never wanted any of this (attention)…Mahalia Jackson sang, “If I can help somebody, then my living will not be in vain”…And King understood this…If I could cheer somebody, help that transformation, then my living will not be in vain.

Our (adults’) time is over, it is time for us to provide mentorship…Some of you (adults) are still gangster but not as strong as you used to be. Some of you young people are brilliant but do not have the wisdom of experience. That means we need everybody in this audience to dream uncomfortable dreams. Dreams that don’t make sense. Do uncomfortable action.


Photo: Kevin McDonald