MLK Symposium a celebration of King, call for more change

From the left: Jason Collins, Earl Monroe and Chauncey Billups were part of this year's Grizzlies' Sports Legacy Award Symposium. 


Nelson Chenault/Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — To celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy and his dream that changed America, the Memphis Grizzlies held their 13th annual MLK, Jr. Sports Legacy Symposium on Monday’s MLK Day.

This year’s honorees of the Grizzlies’ Sports Legacy Award, NBA All-Stars Earl "The Pearl" Monroe and Chauncey Billups and Jason Collins, the NBA’s first openly gay player, spoke in a program emceed by Grizzlies play-by-play analyst Pete Pranica.

Achieving a dream takes time. The trio spent their time talking about the country King’s dream changed, but also about the lengths that remain. Like 1963, it still unfortunately comes back to race.

Asked what civil rights currently means specifically outside of race, Billups could only address race.

"If you look at our country right now, some of the obvious hot topics are race," Billups said. "Look at the police brutality that’s going on across the country, the unfortunate situation in Ferguson or New York. It’s sad. It really is sad. It’s what our young people today see when they turn on TV … the looting, the rioting.

"You can go back way in time and see similar situations, so it always leaves you to think about, ‘How far have we come?"

Less than two hours earlier, a protest at St. Louis’ Harris-Stowe State interrupted an MLK celebration, protesters reportedly grabbing a mic to accuse the school and present clergy of being part of the "establishment."

King knew the dream of racial equality was possible. He had faith in America. Pranica quoted this from King’s Nobel Peace Prize speech.

"I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind," he read from King.

Said, Monroe, who said he read King’s speeches before games when he was with the Bullet: "We ought to be able to have those type of leaders that instill in us that we are one."

During Monroe’s playing days at Winston-Salem, he encountered racism he didn’t encounter in native Philadelphia.

"Bringing my family down to go out to eat and they say, ‘We don’t serve your kind here,’" Monroe said.

King changed that, but spoke for more, asking us to see past color and into character. Billups said more change is needed, but specifically urged his own race to look within to pay respects to King and ancestors of his day.

"Every time around a presidency, there’s commercials on TV, every single campaign, it’s talking about African Americans going out and vote. If they come (to the National Civil Rights Museum) and see how hard the fight and how so many people gave up their lives to even give us an opportunity to go out and vote … a lot of times we don’t take advantage of that … And that’s just one small area."

As Billups said, people were "beaten, burned, hung" to move our country past racism.