At Heartland Alliance, we believe that everyone has the right to prosper and reach their full potential. As we continue to bend the arc of time toward justice, it is important to stop and reflect on the trials and tribulations of racial injustices – and to celebrate the leaders who have become symbols for equity and opportunity for ALL people. For Black History Month, leaders from across Heartland Alliance reflected on heroes from the community that inspire them.
Quintin Williams is a project manager for our National Initiatives on Poverty and Economic Opportunity. Quintin spends most of his time working with people with criminal records and advocating for the expansion of their opportunities and for broader criminal justice reform in Illinois. He believes in the inherent worth of all people, the urgency of expanding opportunities for the most marginalized, and the paramount role of lived experience in creating strong and sustainable policies. He chose to reflect on Martin Luther King Jr.
Why did you choose this person?
Let me be clear about the Martin Luther King I’m talking about. He was a man of peace, but I’m talking about the MLK who looked in the face of violence and white supremacy. He stepped into the brutality of white supremacy with courage.
I have this in-depth biography, and in it he talks about a moment he had where he said he didn’t want to fight for civil rights anymore and he was afraid. He was facing violence and he had a family. But he decided to accept this calling, even though it may not have been what he wanted.
How do they inspire the work you do today?
I think that the civil rights movement was important and got us to a certain place, but in his last speech he he never says that the task is done. He says “I’ve looked over and seen the promised land, I might not get there with you.” And the work I, and others, do is working towards that promised land.
The work I do now is inspired by his commitment to finish. We want to take the ball and keep going. People who have been impacted by criminalization and working towards a better life, that is an extension of who he was and what he fought for. He believed that people should be taken care of, they should be able to work, live in quality housing, not be discriminated against. I believe people with records or are criminalized don’t get that.
What do you think it will take to get to the future that Dr. King fought for?
My honest answer is I don’t know. The faces of injustice always rear their heads. I think it will take a great new shift in political leadership. Historically marginalized folks are now entering into positions of power at a great rate. And I also think women will lead us to the Promised Land. I think that with the movements going on right now, if we can continue to support them, support women, and others, we can create a future that even Martin Luther King Jr. could not have imagined. The tide is changing and women are leading the charge and they are taking us places. Especially black women.
We’ll get there if we lead with love, because nothing can destroy that.