Moore says Dr. King’s mantra still relevant

Delaware State News/Submitted photo
The Rev. John Moore gives presentations on the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. around 50 to 70 times per year.

DOVER — The current conversation around racial injustice for African Americans in the United States is nothing new to the Rev. Dr. John Moore, who has kept Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy and message alive through 30 years of portraying the civil rights leader. The Rev. Moore’s tributes to Dr. King and his legacy are a true calling and a major part of his life and lessons.

“I’m actively dedicated to perpetuating (Dr. King’s) message wherever I go, and I’ve been blessed to do that with thousands of young people, not only in Delaware, but throughout this country, and being able to make them dream, make them go after their goals and ambitions and letting them know that with hard work and dedication that they can be successful,” said the Rev. Moore, a resident of Magnolia and an associate pastor for the Dover Christian Church. “I’ve seen it hundreds of times in testimonies of young people that I’ve worked with through the years in society, and I continue to do it today.”

However, times have turned volatile over the past month. To the Rev. Moore, it is nothing new.
He has seen the battle for racial equality boil over into riots after Dr. King was assassinated in the 1960s, to the turmoil and unrest after Rodney King was beaten by Los Angeles police in 1991, to the tragedies, protests and riots of today, after George Floyd, 46, died during an arrest by police officers in Minneapolis on May 25 — not to mention all the countless, senseless tragedies in between.

The Rev. Moore said that during crises like the one the country is currently experiencing, he believes his reenactments and presenting Dr. King’s message of peaceful protest still resonate. “I’ve been very proud of doing that work (as Dr. King), and now when you see explosions that are happening across the country like we do with (George) Floyd, Breonna Taylor and (Ahmaud) Arbery, it’s amazing the lack of sensitivity across the country,” he said, “and then you start talking about the Black Lives Matter movement and people just feeling like it’s not a real issue. … I think people are just tired.

“The work I’ve been doing is trying to prepare people to have the right response when things like this happen, but unfortunately, sometimes people get to a boiling point and things just blow up, so I’ve just been involved with a number of virtual groups, sitting on panels for Juneteenth, actively speaking with organizations like the Jewish Federation Council and the Islamic Society.”
The Rev. Moore added, “All of these different entities are very concerned about the issues with racial inequities and racial injustice, and so it’s been an opportunity to stand on my platform to express the importance of respecting people’s differences and valuing the principles of this country that all men are created equal.”

Growing up in Philadelphia, the Rev. Moore saw firsthand what happens when people feel like they are being done wrong.
“The sad thing is systemic racism has been around for centuries,” the reverend said. “I personally was victimized by it growing up in the inner city of Philadelphia. I grew up in an environment where people were poor, where poverty exists, where ignorance exists and where people feel that they’re being held down. It doesn’t matter what time this happens, people will become explosive because they get tired.”

However, the Rev. Moore said there is a difference that he sees when it comes to the protests and demonstrations for social justice today. He believes that a Supreme Court decision in the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education case in 1954 has been successful in helping to change society today — for the better. That case marked a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, in which it unanimously ruled that state laws establishing racial segregation in public schools were unconstitutional, even if the segregated schools were otherwise equal in quality.
The court said that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” making them in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“The thing that has fascinated me now more than ever before is the diversity of people that are involved in these protests,” the Rev. Moore said. “Many people may have thought that the 1954 decision of Brown v. Topeka Board of Education that segregated public schools may not have had the effect that they thought. I think contrary when I look at the protests today, not only in America, but across the world, and that is not only are Black lives important to people of brown skin or Black skin, but they’re important to everybody.

“I think when Brown v. Topeka Board of Education was instituted, it caused the people to be together whether they had to or not, and now the fallacies of racism, the fallacies of inequities, the supremacy thinking, is being shattered, especially this generation. They see people as people, and they see humanity as humanity. They do as Dr. King used to say, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ They feel that.”
So, it does not surprise the Rev. Moore to see White, Latino and Asian people joining in with African Americans in the fight against social injustice.

“They say that if you are unjust to anybody in society, you are unjust to us, as well,” he said. “This is what is exciting me about today, the diversity and the dedication of the youth movement and them being determined to see changes so people can be treated and Americans can be liable for what we put on paper, especially in the Constitution.”

Get real conversation started
Just like the iconic Dr. King, the Rev. Moore sees the impetus for change coming through conversations — and not fighting and looting. “We need to have more conversations and dialogue and not be evasive about the realities of what has happened over history,” he said. “Racism was something that really segregated this nation, and there’s still a lot of people who deal with mind-sets of Jim Crow, White supremacy, Black supremacy and things like that.

“My whole focus is that we sit down as a community and iron things out. Whenever there’s a problem in a family, even if somebody’s upset with another family member, the best way to repair that is to sit down and have brutal open dialogue. Sometimes it hurts, sometimes people get upset, but when the dialogue takes place, they’re healing.”

The Rev. Moore added: “It’s the same thing for our community. We have to sit down — Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, all of us — sit down at the same table and open up to the issues of what are existing. Those who are accountable for the challenges that are out there need to be accepting of those challenges. They shouldn’t need to see a person murdered on live television or on social media to act. They need to be very aware and proactive in these dialogues and conversations and then address the inequities that are absolutely prevalent in many of our communities.”

He said that people need to keep up the work in addressing the issues, however, he cautioned things should not become as explosive as they did recently in the aftermath of Mr. Floyd’s death. Sometimes, he said, just having a difficult conversation can go a long way in the healing process.

“I think if we just talk, if we see things happening, be it at a school where some act of racism happens, instead of just pointing the fingers and getting angry, sit down as a school board, sit down as an administration, sit down with your students and staff and have a good old dialogue,” he said. “I think we get so angry with each other, and we see these things that happen in situations on social media, and we explode as if it happens everywhere, but it’s only one specific occurrence.

“I say this with absolute confidence — there are more good people than bad people. There are more good police officers than bad police officers, and there’s more hope than desperation. If we learn to truly love one another and respect who each other is, we will have a greater and more wonderful world. I think there is hope.”
The Rev. Moore said that being able to attend Central High School in Philadelphia, a top academic school in that city, helped put him on the path to success.

Overcoming racial injustice
“I grew up in the inner city where there were gangs and there was poverty and there was drugs, and this was kind of all set up by the systemic racism that existed because resources that could have transformed my community were not being invested in it, but (attending Central High) transformed my life,” he said. “So, even though at night I would go back home to the inner city, during the day, I spent my time in classrooms sitting next to some of the most brilliant minds in the entire city. It caused me to have a whole different competitive level about personally succeeding. I came to realize that education was the value of being able to overcome obstacles created by systemic racism.”

Nowadays, the Rev. Moore is best known for his spot-on portrayals of Dr. King. He shares Dr. King’s message to young people and anyone else “that’s willing to listen” to help them get the right mind-set and gain the intelligence they need to be successful and acquire good jobs to be able to feed their families and make sure they can address things like housing and economics that “transform the lives of young people.”
He got to experience firsthand what the powerful, transformative words of Dr. King can do when he was asked to speak during a recent demonstration in Dover.

“I have gone to some of these protests,” said the Rev. Moore. “I have encouraged some of these young people. The biggest thing I’ve told them is not only to be the voice, but also to listen. I remember we had a protest here in Dover, and I was given the opportunity to speak, and I actually did a speech of Dr. King’s ‘How Long, Not Long.’ It was amazing that when I said, ‘How long?’ the entire 200 or 300 people that were there that day would respond, ‘Not long.’

“I think that after I did that at the protest that it created a peace. It’s about encouraging our people. This is nothing new, this has happened before, and we just have to be a strong nation regardless of what leadership may be sending in their messages. We must remember that this is the land of the free, the home of the brave, and there is no greater country than the United States of America.”
The Rev. Moore said he is proud to work for United Way, where he is director for philanthropy and engagement. He said their ideals fit right in with his.

“United Way has launched their Delaware Racial Equity and Social Justice Fund, and so, with that, we’re actively collaborating within the community and getting individuals and nonprofit organizations to collaborate, so we can address those issues about inequity when it comes to education, heath care, housing, economic opportunity and access to nutritious food,” he said. “They’re also addressing issues dealing with law enforcement to make sure that everybody is holding each other accountable and changing laws that need to be changed, so I’m very excited about that.”

Accolades for his passion
The Rev. Moore didn’t expect to win any awards for his portrayals of Dr. King — which he does around 50 to 70 times a year — but that all changed in mid-June. That was when he was selected to receive the 2020 National Sorority of Phi Delta Kappa Inc.’s Community Service Citation Award for the Eastern Region, which consists of states from Connecticut to North Carolina.

“They were supposed to have a big banquet in April, but because of the coronavirus, it was pushed back to July,” said the Rev. Moore. “I think it’s because of all the work that I’ve done over the years, just reaching out to diverse audiences — businesses, churches, schools, universities, whoever it may be — and just sharing messages of unity within our community.

“When I got the award, it was the first time that somebody in the Dover area won this award. The Eastern Region is composed of 29 chapters from Connecticut, New York, D.C., and all the way down to the Carolinas, and for someone from little old Dover, Delaware, to win, it was a shock.”

The Rev. Moore was chosen because of his commitment to advancing and advocating for equity in education and bringing messages on social justice and racial harmony to thousands of students, teachers and diverse audiences across the country.

Throughout the past 30 years, the Rev. Moore has educated his audiences on the importance of honoring civil rights, inclusion and diversity. As a retired member of the U.S. Air Force and highly requested motivational speaker, he has used his expertise to train hundreds of students and adults on team leadership, group dynamics and effective communication.

“It’s really exciting, and I’m hoping there’s a possibility that I can go from the regional award winner to maybe a national award winner. It just makes you feel good when you do something from your heart, but people still reward you because of the work of what you did,” he said.
Another “accolade” that the Rev. Moore received personally was when he performed in character as Dr. King at Hartly Elementary School a while ago. He said that one student went home and insisted to his parents that Dr. King had come and spoken at his school that day.

His parents could not convince the child that Dr. King was gone. Yes, the Rev. Moore is that good. Some of his best imitations and characterizations of Dr. King are often seen in school buildings — and there’s a reason for that.
“The work has always been about putting awareness in front of people, especially our children,” said the Rev. Moore. “Frederick Douglass made this great quote that ‘It is easier to build strong children than to fix broken men.’ So, I’ve always found it absolutely necessary to go into schools, churches, and find other audiences to make them very sensitive of our cultural differences and to have them have a mind-set of respect for all people’s cultures.”

The Rev. Moore said that maybe in the future he will try to work up a new tribute that would represent Dr. King in his 50s, if he had lived that long. He said the world surely needs Dr. King now.

“If (Dr. King) was still here on this Earth today alive, a lot of these issues like what we just experienced with George Floyd, I think a lot of it would be curtailed because he knew how to galvanize people, he knew how to get people to put down weapons and could get people to embrace community and resolve issues together,” the Rev. Moore said.