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ISU Speaker Angela Rye Urges MLK Crowd To Go Deeper With Their Allyship

Angela Rye speaks
Ashley Binkowski
Political strategist Angela Rye speaks to Illinois State University students, faculty, and staff on Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, before her Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Dinner appearance.

With an unapologetic call to action, political strategist Angela Rye urged the crowd at Friday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Dinner at Illinois State University to stop talking about his legacy, and be about it.

"Dr. King said the civil rights movement represented strides, but this part of the struggle is much more physical," she told the sold-out crowd at the Bone Student Center Brown Ballroom.

Rye spoke about what it means to be an ally in the fight for equity and equality in today's generation.

"There's a difference between your acknowledgment and your engagement. There's a difference between you saying, 'I understand how you feel' versus ‘show me what it's like,’” Rye said. "The fundamental question about allyship is, will you speak up when you don't stand to benefit a thing from using your voice?"

As the daughter of Seattle community activist Eddie Rye Jr., Rye is following in his footsteps as an advocate for ending civil and political injustice. She is well known for her appearances on CNN as a political commentator. 

Learning of Normal’s racial equity summit last October, Rye said having a conversation is only one step in the process for executing change in the local community.

"If you're just sitting down to have a meeting or conversation, there is no measurable outcome," she said. “What resulted from the summit? How diverse is the city’s leadership now? Who gives the government contracts, which was another frontier of Dr. King’s fight? Those are the questions that need to be asked, and if those numbers don't substantially change, there is no equity."

Angela Rye speaks
Credit Ashley Binkowski / WGLT
Political strategist Angela Rye speaks to Illinois State University students, faculty, and staff at the Bone Student Center on Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. She was the keynote speaker at this year's Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Dinner.

Reflecting on Dr. King's legacy, she said there are many flaws in how Americans choose to walk in it today. 

"He said once, 'America be true to what you write on paper' and today nearly 52 years after his assassination, America is still walking boldly in hypocrisy. That's something we have to do a great deal of wrestling with and then solving for," she said.

Rye said it is time to stop romanticizing who Dr. King was.

"This is a time of the year where people who have never studied an ounce of black history, their favorite black person in history is MLK Jr. because all they can do is take his quotes out of context," she said. “They talk about his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech and leave out parts on the front end, back end, and everything in the middle."

Referencing the famous "content of their character" quote, Rye emphasized the importance of being transparent about the full context of his words, as he also mentioned that there is a debt owed to African-Americans in that same speech.

“It is imperative that when we honor Dr. King, we're not just honoring hollow promises, empty words, or quotes taken out of context. We have to honor him with our actions, “ she said. “That’s a movement about equity and shifting the paradigm to ensure that people who are descendants of slaves can now fully participate. You're not giving anyone a handout or a hand up; we already did that when we built this country for free.”

Rye said it is imperative to tell the truth to move forward.

"Don't tell me about the content of my character when you have colleagues who actively profile, set unaffordable bails, and wrongfully convict our brothers and sisters. Don't tell me about love when you and your closest white evangelical friends aren't just cowering to racism and bigotry, also known as 'Trumpism,' but are actively defending it," she said.

"Don't tell me about justice rolling down like waters when your silence is deafening as we watch injustice in the Senate and the Department of Justice. You're going to hear about Dr. King's real legacy every time I get up because it's not OK to accept a non-cynical and whitewashed legacy of who he was,” she said.

Impeachment Trial

As the impeachment trial continues, Rye said it’s necessary to continue speaking out against injustice. 

"I think people have to understand that it is a very convoluted mess, but the case and point is that we can never grow tired of pointing out wrongdoings. Even if that means you don't sit through 12 hours of the impeachment trial, you still have to know all along the way that I'm gonna continue speaking out against what is wrong, regardless of what side of the political spectrum you're on. That is what I think patriotism is all about,” Rye said.

She said now is an opportunity for Americans to correct the wrongs and address what's going on in the country.

"Racism didn't disappear when Barack Obama was president. It was just quiet, and when people began to feel threatened by having to share the power, we saw it come out bold and violent," she said.

"And so because it doesn't impact you directly, you don't have a family member trying to cross the border, or you don't have a friend who is adversely impacted by a hate crime, or you don't know the young man who hung the noose at this school, it doesn't mean you don't have a duty,” she added.

“You have an awesome responsibility, and we can do this together, but we can't move forward together if it's in lies and deceit. It has to be within the power of the truth.”

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Tiffani Jackson is a reporting intern at WGLT and a student at Illinois State University's School of Communication. She started working at WGLT in summer 2019.
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