Maryum Ali: Education, Social Justice and Activism

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Stacie Larsen
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Activist and author Maryum Ali headlined the festivities for Cameron University’s 33rd Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration on Jan. 16.

The day started with CU students volunteering all morning as part of the MLK Day of Service.

In the afternoon, Ali led a panel discussion at 2:30 p.m. before speaking at the evening banquet at 6:30 p.m. in the Aggie Recreation Center, capping off the day’s events.

The panel discussion also featured Lawton Police Department’s Sergeant Timothy Jenkins, CU’s instructor of social sciences Rick Lowe, and Saint Paul School of Theology’s Dr. Stan Basler. Under the moderation of Dr. Willie Smith, they addressed such topics as communication between the police and the public and social reform.

Jenkins explained one way to heal the rift between the police and the public: “Raise your children to support authority,” he said. “it’s tough seeing what’s going on [out] there these days, but it starts at home.”

Ali followed up Jenkin’s statements with lessons she learned from her father, the late boxer and activist Muhammad Ali.

“Whatever you learn in this house impacts the globe,” she said.

She emphasized the need to approach the activism of her father and King in different ways.

“We want kids to learn the history they should,” Maryum said, “but we have to apply history to them.”

She said parents should teach their children how to interact with the police. Maryum demonstrated the nuances of communicating with law enforcement through role play with Jenkins.

“All officers are not the same,” she said. “Don’t jump off with an attitude. Say, ‘Yes sir, no sir.’ You need to behave and respect authority.”

Basler said there is no rule book on understanding at the nature of justice.

“It’s a condition where everyone’s basic needs are met and there is justice and peace on the earth,” he said. “You may not be Christian. You may not be Muslim. But [we can] come together about an understanding of things that are for the common good.”

After the panel discussion, guests lined up outside the ballroom for a signing session with Ali. She interacted with the audience and answered questions informally.

The banquet wrapped up the line of events. Ali addressed attendees about her career and her activism. She said her job in social work, gang prevention and youth development was a family affair.

“My father loved the fact that I was doing that work,” Ali said. “He would come down and talk with the kids.”

These talks would help her discover the roots at many of her clients’ issues and the distance between them and the history she learned.

“I hear why they’re so disconnected from a legacy that is so brilliant and beautiful,” she said. “We’ve made so much progress. Kids really don’t realize the freedom they have to walk where they need to walk and go where they need to go. They are disconnected.

“Back in MLK’s era, the need was desegregation and equality. The need was [blacks] being seen as a human being by non-blacks. We need to speak to the needs of these kids right now.”

Maryum also spoke about her experience as an undercover inmate with the show “60 Days.”

“For fifteen years, I’ve tried to prevent youth from going to jail,” she said. “I thought this would be a good opportunity to see what jail was like and see if it was rehabilitative.”

She said her experiences have been useful educational tools.

“I put a module in the curriculum on how to explain the criminal justice system to young people who are at risk with regards to the traps,” she said.

“We [speak] to them on their level about these traps and how significant it is to their lives and how easy it is to get caught up.”

She ended her time by answering questions from attendees.

Her closing note addressed the best ways to iterate social movements into policy change.

“You’re not going to get policy without people being engaged or voting,” Ali said.

Afterward, Rev. Phil Jones introduced the winners of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Essay contest.

Cameron students Gary Reddin and Simone Lockhart both won awards for their submissions, with Lawton High School’s Kahlia Patton receiving the other prize.

The awards segment of the banquet concluded with the presentation of the Humanitarian Service Award to Bishop John Dunaway.

Dunaway is the founder and bishop of Abundant Life Christian Church, president of the Lawton-Fort Sill Inter-Denominational Ministerial Alliance, and a member of the gang task force and The Next Step program.

Award Committee Chair Natalie Fitch acknowledged him for the way he exemplifies King’s teachings.

“[Dunaway] promotes community among women and men from different social economic, ethnic and geographical areas,” Fitch said, “[and] is committed to humanity service and to [the] practice of non-violence.”

The evening concluded with Kortney Smith’s rendition of “Lift Every Voice” and a benediction from Bishop James G. Nunn.

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