Josh Griffin (MDP 2021) Appears on MLK-Day Panel

On Martin Luther King Jr. day, Josh Griffin (MDP 2021) appeared in an intergenerational panel discussion called “Bridging the Generational Divide” organized by the King Center for their Beloved Community Global Summit. The panel spanned four generations and featured Dr. Bernice King, Ziad Ahmed, Greta Rios, and MDP’s Josh Griffin, who currently works as a graduate assistant at the Carter Center and at its Human Rights Program. In his own words: “Being part of that discussion was not an individual experience, it was a collective of life experiences that brought me to that opportunity, and if it was not for the support of others, I would not have been in that conversation.” Below is an interview with Josh:

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Q: What life-path brought you to Emory’s MDP program? 

A: For two years, I lived as a Peace Corps Volunteer in a rural Moroccan town. My service was not easy; I experienced a lot of personal hardship and failures. I also felt a strong sense of belonging and love from my community. Having the opportunity to live in Bni Ayat taught me what it means to be part of a community. As my Peace Corps service ended, I told myself that my service to Bni Ayat is lifelong, that this is just the beginning. It was my Peace Corps service that brought me to MDP.

Q: Tell us about some of the work you’ve done with The Carter Center (TCC). 

A: I've been a part of various activities in my time at TCC. I've conducted research focused on civil and human rights issues, and I synthesized materials to produce background reports on different truth and reconciliation commissions, citing relevant legal and policy terminology and current community-led truth-telling efforts in the United States.  

In that vein, I've assisted in creating a database that catalogs attacks on human rights defenders worldwide. I also managed interviews with human rights NGOs to gather more data to contribute to our human rights defenders database. 

I've also taken part in some of the programming activites at TCC, and I spearheaded their online Forum on Human Rights, which puts on live roundtable discussions. I recently initiated a proposal for a roundtable discussion on social justice and the arts. [This virtual event will take place Thursday, May 20. View it here!]  

Q: In the panel discussion, you spoke about crossing the 17th Street bridge in Atlanta during a Black Lives Matter in 2020. You were marching at the front of the line and faced a wall of police officers. What went through your head at that moment? Tell us about your experience as an activist in the mass movements that took place last year.  

JoshGriffin_PanelPic.PNGA: Being at the march was one of the proudest movements of my life. At that moment, I was not afraid of being arrested because I knew this moment in time was bigger than me. I thought of John Lewis and how he almost died when he, and other Civil Rights activists, marched across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama. I also thought of the activists beaten by the police during the Selma March, who had dogs attacking them, and firehoses turned on them. I recognized that I could walk across the 17th street bridge in Atlanta and not have the police brutalize me, not have dogs attacking me, not have firehoses harm me because, on March 7th, 1965, a group of Civil Rights activists made that walk first. Because of the activists that came before me, I was able to get in "good trouble" and not have scars to show for it or end up in jail. I can only hope the actions I have taken in my life lead to a more equitable world, where future generations can live in dignity and not live in systemic institutional oppression.

Last year I also went to the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington with my classmate Jamie Lutz (MDP 2021) in Washington, DC. We lived history on that day. Tens of thousands of diverse people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to protest for Black Lives Matter. Together we heard Martin Luther King III speak about his father's dream, about the importance of continuing this fight for human dignity and equity. We saw the granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr. speak. She stood where her grandfather stood when he delivered his "I have a dream" speech. In the 57 years since the March on Washington, the United States of America has progressed. It is not where it should be, but each day we can get closer to becoming the nation that Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned. MLK Jr.’s granddaughter and her generation live in a better U.S. because of the Civil Rights Movement and the sacrifices those activists made. I will never forget standing with Jamie atop the steps of the Lincoln Memorial; as we heard the speeches, I looked out across the reflection pool and saw a sea of hope for a better tomorrow.  

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Q: What was it like to take part in a discussion alongside Dr. Bernice King and other activists for the King Center’s intergenerational panel event? 

A: It was a surreal experience to take part in a discussion alongside Dr. Bernice King. I am very grateful for the opportunity to join that conversation. I also do not want that to be the highlight of my life. I want to continue down this path of advocacy and use my life to create a better world. Being part of the conversation is the motivation for me to do more and dedicate my life to advocating against social injustice in the United States and abroad. As John Lewis said, you have to get in good trouble. I know I continually will.  

Q: What does Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy mean for you, now, in 2021? 

A: To identify your passions and fully dedicate yourself to achieving them - no matter what. Be selfless. Care for humanity. Love others always. Know you are making a difference in this world. You only have one chance at life. Live it fully, get everything you can out of it, and go to your death bed tired, knowing you lived an amazing life.