Among the many women honored last week during the National Organization of Black Elected Legislative (NOBEL) Women conference was Birmingham’s T. Marie King.
The NOBEL Women’s conference attracted some of the nation’s top political minds as King won the 2018 Shining Star Award for Empowerment of Women and Girls. Her track record shows why he was recognized.
King, 38, is an activist, organizer and facilitator. During the day she does bias training sessions and workshops for businesses and organizations, and seminars on race and prejudices. She also can frequently be seen at city hall meetings. She also puts together empowerment events, attends rallies and exhibition openings at museums.
She wants more.
“My five-year plan would be traveling . . . I’d love to do more with college students,” she said. “I’d love to be a visiting professor to a predominantly white institute and teach an Ethics course. I think that’s so important. If you can address how you see each other it could change. If we can catch these kids before they get in the workplace they’re more inclined to make a difference.”
That’s where her bias training comes in.
There’s a quote from actress, playwright and professor Anna Deavere Smith that King shares every time she does her workshops and seminars. It says, “It is a crisis to be in this country and we don’t know how to feel about anyone but the people that not only look like us, but think like us.”
A year ago, King began bias training for jobs, organizations and groups around the state. She doesn’t point the finger during her seminars, but rather prompts an introspective response.
“My workshops and facilitation are from the angle of ‘Let’s not just talk about the problem, let’s talk about how you view the problem,’” she said. “How you view the problem is going to determine in whether you invest time into changing it, or even see a problem that needs change.”
King said her objective is to be respectful and open-minded.
“I try to help people understand we have to be careful about the labels we put on people and challenging them, ‘How do you feel about the term LGBTQ? How do you feel when you see the term at-risk youth?’” she said.
There some issues that can divide some people, she said.
“Asking how do you feel about seeing Collin Kaepernick kneeling? Why do you feel that way? Why are you upset about kneeling at the flag but not a black kid getting shot? You have to be a custodian of how you think – which means you need to go and clean up your thinking from time to time.”
The thought-provoking topics can often quiet a room.
“Normally when people are quiet, they are thinking or processing,” she said. “I’ve had people say ‘I need to have some conversations with my kids.’ It’s not Nobel Peace Prize winning, but I think when you have people leave out saying ‘you really made me think about how I see the world and others,’ that’s a win to me.”
Social media has been a key source of engagement.
“I guess I was just oblivious to the impact I was making,” said King, who frequently uses her Facebook as a place to have discussions about current and social issues.
“I decided I would use my Facebook to challenge people on how they think instead of posting crazy stuff,” she said.
When it comes to activism, King said social media has made some lazy.
“I think (passion for activism) happens in spurts,” she said. “I don’t think there’s a consistent burning fire. I think some sparks are brighter and harder. Some people also use social media as an opportunity to hide behind.”
It does work in some situations though, she said.
“It sparked Black Lives Matter, and we followed it through the George Zimmerman trial,” she said. “And it let us know about Philando Castile. It’s been helpful.”
In 2012, George Zimmerman shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida and was acquitted of all charged in 2013. Philando Castile was a 32-year-old black man who was shot and killed a St. Anthony, Minnesota police officer, after being pulled over.
Though technology has advanced, the passion needs to be there, King said.
“We can’t get people to show up to a (community) meeting on a Thursday night but Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., with no social media, got over 200,000 people to show up in Washington D.C.,” she said.
The 2016 presidential election which elected Donald Trump was a wake-up call, she said.
“I think there’s this misconception of a level of satisfaction. I think that’s where people were in 2015 and then the election happened. Now people are like ‘wait a minute,’” she said.
Purpose vs. passion
King’s background is in video production, which helps when she talks about race.
“We would talk about race through visual photography, through film clips,” she said. “We’ve talked about race through music videos. It’s a way of thinking outside the box. These are things we interact with, so let’s see how we see race inside these things.”
King said she doesn’t do these kinds of talks as much now, but she would like to do it more.
“It’s funny because I feel like the work I’m doing is what I’m purposed to do, not what I’m passionate about,” she said. “I’m passionate about the arts.”
King periodically inserts visual arts in her talks, and “find ways to insert what I’m actually passionate about in this work that I feel is more purpose-driven,” she said. “I feel this is what I’m supposed to impact the world with,” she said. “I would have preferred my impact be through the medium of film – it could still happen – but I recognize that sometimes what is necessary is what we need to move toward, it’s what we need to do.”
Her focus now is expanding her seminars and workshops, she said.
“I’ve been to Anniston, Selma, Montgomery, traveling around the state,” she said. “I’m interested in taking it to the next level. How we see each other is not just an issue in Alabama, it’s national; global, actually. So I want to spread that message.”
King, a graduate from Hueytown High School, moved from Birmingham after high school and lived in Atlanta, Orlando and Tampa over the course of 10 years before moving back in 2008.
In 2010, King worked at the YWCA where she helped facilitate volunteers. She wasn’t easy on them, she said.
“I was big on, ‘You’re not here to take selfies with the kids you’re helping learn how to read,’ I put them through hell,” she said. “I would make them take the bus to Woodlawn to see what it was like. There’s a whole world out here that they needed to see what it was like. They weren’t there for a pat on the back. So, they understood even if it was for a couple of hours they saw what people had to deal with day after day, year after year.”
The responses were worth it, she said.
“I’ve had students say to me ‘I changed my major because you really helped open my eyes,’” she said. “I’m not expecting everyone to do that, but I just want them to remember what they learned when they get some money; or adopt a school and make sure they have the supplies they need. If you have the access to resources, help people who need it. That’s what I want.”