Brinkley asks group at TKAAM to reexamine the term ‘unity’


Audrey Korte

TKAAM Board President Ted Ayres (right) leads a Q&A with SGA President Kenon Brinkley (left) after Brinkley's talk on the word unity and the idea of weaponized rhetoric.

When unification rhetoric is used, especially in speeches, the speaker needs to take caution and make sure they define their terms thoroughly otherwise, the word “unity” can become a part of weaponized rhetoric. This was one of the driving points presented by WSU’s Student Body President Kenon Brinkley when he spoke to a crowd at The Kansas African American Museum (TKAAM) on Wednesday afternoon.

“Politically speaking the word unity is a slogan. No more, no less,” Brinkley said. “Unity is a tool and like any, it can be used for good or evil.”

Brinkley spoke to a crowd of about three dozen at TKAAM during the first in a series of “Senior Wednesday” events. This event comes just days before the United We Stand celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. at the Chapel Hill United Methodist Church which will feature a speech by Governor Laura Kelly among other community heavy-hitters.

Brinkley focused on a term that’s often presented in speeches and edicts – “unity”. He pointed out that it can be used rhetorically as a type of propaganda to bring people together but often at the expense of, or against another group of people. But Brinkley didn’t come right out and say this at first. Instead, he demonstrated it to the audience by quoting a leader who’s currently on our minds.

“We the citizens of America are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and to restore its promise for all of our people. Together we will determine the course of America and the world for many years to come. We will face challenges. We will confront hardships but we will get the job done. And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty Creator. For the Bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity,” Brinkley read.

Some in the audience responded with “Amen.”

There may have been an assumption that the quote came from Martin Luther King Jr. due to the timing and nature of the event. But the joke was on the audience when they realized that the quote came entirely from a couple of paragraphs in President Donald Trump’s inaugural address.

The audience seemed shocked.

Brinkley continued by showing a clip of Dr. King who spoke about unity in his 1968 speech “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop. King said when slaves got together in Pharaoh’s court, Pharoah could not hold the slaves in slavery any longer. That was why unity was important.

Brinkley said that an examination of the word unity is necessary because it’s ill-defined as a mantra. Mussolini used it. Stalin used it. And so did The Pope and Martin Luther King Jr. Every ideology has used it.

Brinkley pointed out that when Dr. King spoke on Washington he was surrounded by people who told him not to speak, by armed guards who would have shot the man dead if they could have, and of course the masses who came to hear the great orator. But Dr. King spoke to all of them.

“He called everyone his brother. Everyone was his we,” Brinkley said.

In an interview with The Sunflower Brinkley said, “When we use words like unity, we have to be careful and make sure that we define our terms. Who are we united against? Who is we? And what do we stand for? Those are the main questions that I’m challenging today and tying them into my perspective on why the civil rights movement was so successful and what the results look like today.”

Brinkley said he is what the results look like.

“Whether or not the people who criticize this generation realize it, this generation is exactly what you would have expected for people that are championing ideas of self-love and raising your voice and being unified,” Brinkley said.

He said millennials may be image crazed, and loud-mouthed but they know who they are and they’re more accepting than the generations that have come before them. They’re willing to have hard conversations.

“When we draw the map of unity it’s not a circle in a neighborhood, it’s everybody. There are still people who criticize the millennial generation for blurring the lines between groups that should be separate but equal. That’s the same kind of rhetoric that we were trying to get out of during civil rights.”

Brinkley said he hopes that through conversation the younger generation and older generations can learn from each other and push the human race forward together.

Brooke Burrough, Operations Manager for TKAAM requested Brinkley speak at the first Senior Wednesday event because of his oration skills, his role as student body President and because he’s a member of the same fraternity that Dr, King was a member of – Alpha Phi Alpha.

“I thought what better way to introduce an older generation to the life and legacy of Dr. King then through the eyes of a young adult because most people who are coming probably know a lot about Dr. King but from a different perspective,” Burrough said. “This is a great way to bridge a college student’s thoughts and ideas of who Dr. King was and where we are today and what we need to do to what their thoughts are of who Dr. King is or was.”

Burrough said this event was a stepping stone to Saturday night’s “United We Stand” presentation.

“It’s something to bridge cultures. It’s not a black thing. It’s not a white thing. It’s not a red thing. It’s a human race thing. Hopefully, the speakers that we’ll hear will show us how does our theme fit, United We Stand, and what does that mean” Burroughs said.