(PRWEB) January 13, 2014
On Wednesday, January 15, 2014, in commemoration of the 85th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birth, an historic event will occur in Washington, D.C., on Capitol Hill. Beginning at 3 p.m., descendants of some of America’s most prominent African American Legacy Families will join U.S. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Congressional members and staff, and representatives of Dalit Freedom Network in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center’s Congressional Auditorium to sign “The Declaration of Empathy” which addresses the modern-day oppression and enslavement of the Dalit people of India. This event is a collaborative effort between Gye Nyame, Inc. (a nonprofit that focuses on cultural and educational advancement), Dalit Freedom Network-USA (a nonprofit dedicated to ending the subjugation of the Dalits in India), and Quander Historical Society (which represents the descendants of George Washington’s slaves). The general public is invited to attend.
The Dalits, India’s so-called “Untouchables,” are history’s longest standing oppressed people. Today, there are an estimated 250 million Dalits in India still being subjected to harsh and inhumane treatment that rivals the worst aspects of historical slavery. In 2007, the U.S. Congress passed House Concurrent Resolution 139, "expressing the sense of the Congress that the United States should address the ongoing problem of untouchability in India.”
Now, several prominent African American Legacy Families, descendants of those who directly experienced unspeakable degradation and brutality during the dark days of American slavery, wish to voice their own concern and empathy for those families suffering the misery of being trapped in modern-day slavery. The Quander Family (descendants of the slaves of George Washington) is joining together with descendants of Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Banneker and Mary McCleod Bethune, among others, in a spirit of unity and solidarity to assert that African Americans and fellow Americans should oppose the modern-day enslavement of the Dalits and declare empathy with their plight. Also attending will be descendants of Solomon Northrup, whose autobiographical memoir was the subject of director Steve McQueen’s widely-acclaimed 2013 film “12 Years A Slave.” This event will become a milestone in the history of the contemporary abolition movement.
Rohulamin Quander, President of the Quander Historical Society, states, “The Quander Family, like other African American families, still feels the pain and sting that institutional discrimination visited upon us. With this Declaration of Empathy, we stand in solidarity with the oppressed Dalit people of India. Until they are free, none of us is, indeed, free.” According to Dr. Ana Steele, President of Dalit Freedom Network, “The Declaration of Empathy is the culmination of a tremendous commitment on all our parts to bring the Dalits’ plight into the public square, and what we hope will be the beginning of an international groundswell of support for their freedom.”
As a lead-in to this event, Howard University’s African American Studies Department will host a Round Table/Panel Discussion in the Browsing Room of Founders Library on the afternoon of Tuesday, January 14th, beginning at 1 p.m. Topics to be explored include the past efforts of Dalit individuals and organizations to reach out to black Americans, having long identified their struggle with African Americans’ struggle for civil rights, and how to now forge meaningful and mutually beneficial contacts and associations based on the continuing struggle for civil and human rights. Panelists include Dr. Bachuchu Lal, President of the Ambedkar Association USA, and Dr. Howard Dodson, Director of the Moorland Spingarn Research Center, H.U. African American Studies Department.
By hosting “The Declaration of Empathy” event on the birth date of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the conveners intend to magnify and draw upon the courage and conviction of the historic human rights champion. During a sermon given at Ebenezer Baptist Church on July 4, 1965, Dr. King reflected upon his journey to India, and acknowledged the parallel between African Americans and Dalits, stating, in part, “Yes, I am an untouchable, and every Negro in the United States of America is an untouchable.” Through declaring empathy with the oppressed and downtrodden of India, participants of “The Declaration of Empathy” signing event hope to further the possibility that slavery, in all of its aspects, will someday be dredged from the human reality, for once and for all.
Media is invited and encouraged to attend and report on this timely and critical story. For more information please contact press coordinator Mikuak Rai by calling (202) 276-3099 or emailing press(at)declarationofempathy(dot)org.