Changing Systemic American Racism Starts with Our Collective Actions


[Systemic Racism]
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”
Photo: YouTube

Writer Irene Kai reminds all of us to use our collective voice–and actions–to defeat systemic racism and ushed change into our troubled world.

The first World Peace Flame in North America was installed in the lobby of the Civil Rights Museum, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee in 2002.

The World Peace Flame is eternal as the ideals and inspiration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are universal and timeless. In the current times, his words are like flames that glow in our hearts: “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”

African-American public intellectual Alexander Michael Gittens noted:

“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way. Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Ashland (Oregon) Culture of Peace Commission (ACPC) installed the second North American World Peace Flame on the International Day of Peace two years ago, 21 September 2018. This was possible because it was supported by our community. The residents of our city aspire to the ideals of Dr. Martin Luther King. We try to rise and answer to our higher callings and adhere to our moral compass to do the right thing.

In July a local woman, Joanne Feinberg, invited me to participate in her “Say Their Names Memorial” project to paint a name assigned by her on one of my own t-shirts. It was displayed with others on the fence in the Ashland Railroad District.

Her project is an effort to help ensure that Black victims of senseless killings are not forgotten. The memorial is also a place to process the grief we feel about the violence and injustice faced by Black, Indigenous and People of Color in our country.

My assigned name is Aaron Campbell, a 25-year-old African-American man. He was unarmed and murdered—shot in the back– by the Portland police January 29, 2010. I found the brightest red paint and started to letter the shirt as if his blood was spelling out his name. In the process, I was overcome with emotion; his name is on my shirt, I am a living person – I am Aaron Campbell. I will speak for him and all the victims killed by the hands of police brutality.

And now we learn, sadly not surprisingly, that many police forces are infiltrated with white supremacists, according to a former FBI special agent who investigated many such cases.

There is so much at stake and so much needs changing. November 3rd is our big chance to make significant changes.


For our local election we will be able to vote for new Ashland City Council members and a new mayor. Ashland Culture of Peace Commission posts a question for both mayoral candidates Tonya Graham and Julie Akins: “If you are elected as the mayor of Ashland, what action would you take to influence reform in Jackson County’s jail and Sheriff’s office to reduce excessive force?” Their responses will be published in our Ashland Tidings daily newspaper ACPC column on September 7, 2020.

We give this example to challenge others across the US to really investigate your candidates by any creative means you can devise.

Let us vote with our hearts to begin the change we would like to see.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.

Irene Kai is Co-Founder of the Ashland Culture of Peace Commission and Art Instructor at the Rogue Community College.

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